Despite decades of dealing in the rarest ancient weapons, there have been some pieces that hypnotize us with their presence and impressiveness and this is certainly one of those times! Made on an enormous single struck obsidian blade that was extensively bifacially worked to its present form, this ancient Mayan Pre-Columbian bifacial stabbing dagger stretches to a whopping length of 14 inches (35.5 centimeters)! Unlike ordinary Mayan blades, it features an integral stemmed handle that was likely wrapped in cloth or leather. The blade is not symmetrical which makes it extremely unique as it has a slight belly to the underside of the blade, and a dropped point on the tip, almost like a giant elongated bowie knife. Central regions on the blade show the original obsidian cortex surface with secondary flaking all around the edges of the blade to create its refined form, sharp edges and point. The thick cross-section and robust tip offers exceptional strength in this being used in stabbing attacks rather than cutting ones. As irrefutable evidence of its authenticity and completely unaltered, original state, the entire surface features heavy calcite encrustations with spiderweb patterns which were caused by plant roots while this dagger was buried underground.
This is the first time in our 24 year career we have encountered a Pre-Columbian obsidian dagger with stemmed handle of this design and size. As such, an unusual and unique weapon of such enormous proportions would have doubled as a display of status and rank. It most likely would have been owned and carried by a ruling member of Maya society. It could have also functioned as a public display weapon used by a Mayan high priest in human ritual sacrifice.
Of all the ancient cultures of the Americas, no civilization has held more intrigue and secrets for so long as that of the Mayans. In 1960, their language code of glyphs was finally deciphered and forever changed our view of what we initially thought was a peaceful and harmonious society. On the contrary, the Mayan Culture of the latter years was bathed in the blood of vicious warfare and astounding levels of human sacrifice. Their technology was so advanced it is no wonder many believe they received intelligence from extra-terrestrials. Despite our recent discoveries of Mayan mathematics, astronomy and calendar technology, the Mayans still leave us with many mysteries. Their love of war caused them to manufacture spectacular weapons with inherent beauty and artistry. Their ceramics depict a fascinating culture of status, sacrifice and deep religious devotion to a number of strange gods.
Archaeologists divide the Mayan Culture into different periods - LATE PRE-CLASSIC / PROTO-CLASSIC (300 BC - 300 AD), EARLY CLASSIC (300 AD - 600 AD), LATE CLASSIC (600 AD - 830 AD), TERMINAL CLASSIC (830 AD - 950 AD). The earliest days of the Maya date back to 2000 BC when small farming villages first appeared in the highlands and Pacific coastline of Guatemala. Crops such as corn, squash and beans made up the staple of their diet and are believed to have been brought from previous migration through Mexico. The Maya pottery styles were unique to the early Maya settlements, though. By 1000 BC, villages sprang up in the lowland regions. The Maya lived in the same locations for centuries and in a continuous state of architectural improvement and expansion leading up to the magnificent 'super-cities' we associate with them today. By 300 AD. full-scale cities were being built with stone featuring massive plazas, temples and pyramids reaching 20 stories high.
It is no wonder that some believe that extra-terrestrial beings brought their knowledge to the Maya. By 300 AD, the first inscriptions suddenly appeared in Maya sites. These early inscriptions were so beautiful it was as if the gods had delivered it to the Mayan themselves! Forward to 600 years later and the inscriptions cease. The first comprehensive writing system in Pre-Columbian America was invented by the Maya. Among the mysteries of the Maya are their amazing understanding of astronomy along with the development of an accurate calendar and mathematical system. Their number system was based on units of 20 and included a concept of 'zero'.
The skills of the Mayan craft are exemplified in their stone and wood carvings, flaked stone objects, pottery and personal adornment. Much of their art centers around their devotion to a religion that is both fascinating and gory. Blood-letting rituals were the norm and many acts of war were motivated by the capture of vast numbers of their enemies for ritual human sacrifice that would run for days on end, forming lakes of blood and fat at the bases of their stone pyramids that defy architectural explanation.
Our understanding of the fascinating MAYAN CULTURE was completely wrong and misinterpreted until as recent as the 1960, when major achievements were made in the deciphering of their glyph language. Elaborately designed ceremonial cities lacking any obvious defenses initially led us to believe that the Mayans were a peaceful theocracy living in ideal harmony with their environment and each other. We could not have been further from the truth. Lowland city-states lived in constant warfare with one another and the thirst of their gods for human blood and sacrifice seemed impossible to satiate.
Perhaps a lesson for us today, recent scientific analysis of the demise of the highly advanced Mayan civilization now answers the biggest mystery of all - "What ever happened to the ancient Mayans?". Long-term high population density (500 people per square mile - the highest in the world at the time) of unbelievable proportions put a strain on their agricultural system that was impossible to sustain. The effects of nutritional deficiencies are evident in bone and tooth analysis on graves dating to the Late Classic Period. It is most probable that starvation put unbearable sociopolitical stress on the society to either kill each other for food or die of hunger necessitated by the technological advancement of warfare and its escalation.
- Fiedel, Stuart J., Prehistory of the Americas, 1992 - Freeman and Company, Early Man in America, 1973
- Hirth Kenneth, Obsidian Craft Production in Ancient Central Mexico, 2006
- Muser, Curt, Facts and Artifacts of Ancient Middle America, 1978
- Phillips, Charles, The Complete Illustrated History of the Aztec and Maya, 2008