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Maya Burning

7 August 2019

At https://phys.org/news/2019-08-maya-warlike-previously-thought.html … we have the concept of total warfare during the Classic Maya period. The evidence for this is said to come from lake sediments close to the abandoned city of Witzna (formerly Bahlam Jol) as well as a thick charcoal layer in the city itself which seems to indicate a scorched earth attack. The idea of total warfare has previously been broached but until now has been confined to the final stages of Maya civilisation – in the 10th century AD. Dropught and famine are usually said to have led to such a situation. The new evidence dates the burning of Bahlam Jol occurred in 697AD (using the Maya calendar). . In this year Mayan hieroglyphs say Bahlam Jol 'burned for a second time'. The Mayan word Puhsuy = burning we are told, and a connection has therefore been made with the charcoal layer. It seems reasonable enough but we may note that only human agency for the burning event was considered. The idea of a cosmic connection was not thought worthy of consideration. Did the Maya really attack rival cities and burn them to the ground? We might wonder if they did so in order to copy the acts of gods – sending fire down from the sky. It seems a strange act of warfare to entirely engulf a city by burning it to the ground. Presumably some of the inhabitants fled as there is an indication that a lesser more impoverished occupation occurred in the aftermath.

The term for burning is used for 3 other cities of the Maya – which may indicate 3 separate incidents. The sediment cores appear to bear out this fact. See also https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-019-0671-x

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