Funeral Stele of Artistion

Funeral Stele of Artistion

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"The entombment of Atala" also called "Atala’s funeral"

© RMN / R.G. Ojéda

The novel Atala or the love of two savages in the wilderness by Chateaubriand gave Girodet the subject for one of his most popular paintings. Set in primitive America of the 17th century, Atala is the tragic story of a young Christian metisse who falls madly in love with Chactas, an 'Indian' whom she has saved from a death sentence. Taken in by a missionary, Father Aubry, after a long 'walkabout', the young lovers however cannot live out their passsion. Trapped by the vow made to her mother to dedicate herself to religion, Atala chooses suicide in order to avoid succumbing to her passion, despite Chactas' willingness to convert so as to be able to marry her.

Presented at the Salon of 1808, the painting is evidence of the renewal of religion in France, ever since it had been re-introduced by the Concordat. And Chateaubriand himself was to be influential in this return of Christian religion with his book, Génie du christianisme (The Spirit of Christianity). Indeed, Chateaubriand was include the story of Atala (intially published separately in 1801) at the end of the third part of his work on Christianity, thereby aiming to illustrate the “Harmonies of Christian religion with the scenes of nature and the passions of the human heart”.

Girodet took full advantage of the romance of the subject by setting the dramatic denouement. Here Chactas and Father Aubry carry the body of Atala out for burial in the tomb which they have just dug at the entrance to a cave in the wilderness. On the cavewall the painter has reproduced the line adapted from the Book Job by Chateaubriand : “I have faded like a flower, I have withered like the grass of the field”.

Whilst it is true that, as a good pupil of David's, Girodet pays his respects to the Neoclassical style of the time, notably in the 'frieze' composition and the precise nature of the draughtsmanship, he nevertheless distances himself from his teacher in the sentimental quality which he gives to the piece, hugely different from the practice of history painting with its baggage of moral and political symbolism. Indeed, the work is strongly anchored in the grand pietà tradition of Christian iconography. But the religious is strongly tinged with morbid eroticism. As the very model of virginal purity in her white shroud, the chaste Atala (whose idealised beauty sets her apart from the twilight around her) remains deeply sensual. The poignant sadness of Chactas clasping the lifeless body of his beloved and the sympathetic gravitas of Father Aubry complete this composition already a long way down the road of Romanticism.

Funerary mask of Tutankhamen (c1323BC)

Subject: Tutankhamen (reigned 1333-23BC) was handsome but weak, and died aged about 18. Images in his tomb suggest a sickly young ruler who sat down to hunt and habitually leaned on a staff. He was the puppet king put into place by the vizier Ay during one of the most troubled periods of Egyptian history.

Tutankhamen succeeded Akhenaten, the first extremist in recorded history, who suppressed worship of the ancient gods in favour of a single sun god, Aten, built a new capital and inaugurated a style of realistic art with his court sculptor, Bek. Some Egyptologists believe Tutankhamen was Akhenaten's son they shared physical characteristics. Conflicting evidence makes him the son of the heretic king's predecessor, Amenhotep III.

Either way, Tutankhamen consolidated his claim to the throne by marrying, when he was 10, Akhenaten's daughter, Ankhesenpaaten. But it was Ay who ruled through the boy king and began the restoration of old Egyptian values. The capital was moved back to Memphis, and - as reflected in the young king's name - Amen was again chief of the gods.

It is possible that as he approached manhood, Tutankhamen sought more power. In 1968 an examination of his mummy revealed a wound to the skull, and many speculate he was murdered by Ay. His elaborate funeral would then be part of an ancient cover-up. Tutankhamen was destined to be forgotten, tainted as heir of a heretic. The next Egyptian dynasty suppressed all mention of Akhenaten and his era.

It was because of this that Tutankhamen's tomb lay forgotten for three millennia until Howard Carter looked through a hole in the inner doorway on November 26, 1922 and saw "wonderful things".

Distinguishing features: His eyes are white quartz with pupils of black obsidian, the corners tinted with red pigment in spine-tingling imitation of a living, bloodshot eye. It works. The eyes of Tutankhamen are both godlike and human, staring at you in a calm, knowing way while the traffic roars by outside the Cairo Museum, where the gold mask that covered the face of Tutankhamen's mummy is surrounded by the extraordinary artefacts buried with the boy king - from shrines and ritual couches, to three coffins nestling one inside the other, to personal objects Tutankhamen would need in the afterlife - game boxes, gloves, even what some believe to be a tailor's mannequin for modelling his clothes. "Tutankhamen was a man of fashion," reported the Manchester Guardian in the 1920s.

The entire contents of Tutankhamen's tomb can be seen as a portrait of the dead king. But can this mask be called a portrait? It is idealised and hieratic, the features mystically regular, a face turned into imperishable metal and stone. Above his perfect golden cheeks, Tutankhamen has blue petals of lapis lazuli in imitation of the kohl make-up he would have worn in life his symmetrical, neatly folded gold headdress is crowned with the cobra and vulture, symbols of Lower and Upper Egypt. With his false beard and god's repose he personifies Osiris, lord of the dead.

This portrait mask is both superhuman and personal. It has the same harmonious, regular features as other images of Tutankhamen like the elongated face of his predecessor Akhenaten, it is an abstraction nevertheless conveying something of the young king's appearance. A telling detail is the pierced ears in ancient Egypt boys wore earrings, but stopped when they became men. And Tutankhamen genuinely was a good-looking young man - when Carter exposed the mummy, he noted his "beautiful and well-formed features".

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In the early hours of morning following prothesis, the deceased was transported either by pallbearers or horse-drawn carriage along the streets to make their way to the cemetery for burial. This procession, called ekphora, included musicians, friends, and family, all expressing their sorrow through mournful song and physical expressions of grief. Unlike contemporary services which often find mourners stifling outward expressions of sadness, ancient Greeks were encouraged to grieve publicly.

Once the procession reached the cemetery, the deceased was placed in a larnax, a small, often elaborately carved box. From there, it was either cremated on a funeral pyre or interred, the grave marked by a commemorative stele to ensure that the departed would not soon be forgotten.

Therapeutic uses

Masks have played an important part in magico-religious rites to prevent and to cure disease. In some cultures, the masked members of secret societies could drive disease demons from entire villages. Among the best known of these groups was the False Face Society of the Iroquois people. These professional healers performed violent pantomimes to exorcise the dreaded gahadogoka gogosa (demons who plagued the Iroquois). They wore grimacing, twisted masks, often with long wigs of horsehair. Metallic inserts often were used around the eyes to catch the light of the campfire and the moon and to prevent surprise attacks from invisible evil forces.

Masks for protection from disease include the measles masks worn by Chinese children and the cholera masks worn by the Chinese and Burmese during epidemics. The disease mask is most developed among the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, where 19 distinct sickness demon masks have been devised. These masks are of ferocious aspect, fanged, and with fiendish eyes. Gaudily coloured and sometimes having articulating jaws, they present a dragonlike appearance.

Masks have long been used in military connections. A war mask will have a malevolent expression or hideously fantastic features to instill fear in the enemy. The ancient Greeks and Romans used battle shields with grotesque masks (such as Gorgon masks) or attached terrifying masks to their armour, as did Chinese warriors. Grimacing menpō, or half masks (generally covering the face below the eyes), were used by Japanese samurai.

Many sports require the use of masks. These are usually merely functional, protective devices such as the masks worn by fencers, baseball catchers, and skiers. Under the influence of horror movies and cartoon supervillains, goalie masks in professional ice hockey are often richly painted or designed to look creepy. This posturing is not an invention of the 21st century. To protect their faces in sports events and tournaments of arms, horsemen of the Roman army attached highly decorative and symbolic masks to their helmets.

Perhaps the earliest use of masks was in connection with hunting. Disguise masks were seemingly used in the early Stone Age in stalking prey and later to house the slain animal’s spirit in the hope of placating it. The traditional animal masks worn by the Altaic and Tungusic shamans in Siberia are strictly close to such prehistoric examples as the image of the so-called Sorcerer in Trois Frères cave in Ariège, France.

Since agricultural societies first appeared in prehistory, the mask has been widely used for fertility rituals. The Iroquois, for instance, used corn husk masks at harvest rituals to give thanks for and to achieve future abundance of crops. Perhaps the most renowned of the masked fertility rites held by Native Americans are those still performed by the Hopi and Zuni peoples of the American Southwest. Together with masked dancers representing clouds, rain spirits, stars, earth mother, sky god, and others, the shaman takes part in elaborate ceremonies designed to ensure crop fertility. Spirits called katsinas (kachinas), who—tradition holds—first brought rain to the Pueblo tribes, are said to have left their masks behind when sent to dwell in the bottom of a desert lake. The masked dancers embody the return of the kachinas to help bring the rain.

Cylindrical masks, covering the entire head and resting on the shoulders, are of a primal type. They are made of leather and are humanized by the addition of hair and a variety of adjuncts. Eyes are represented by incisions or by buckskin balls filled with deer hair and affixed to the mask. The nose is often of rolled buckskin or corncob. Frequently the mask has a projecting wooden cylinder for a bill or a gourd stem cut with teeth for a snout. Horns are attached to some masks. Many colours are used in their painting plumes and beads are attached, and the sex of the mask is distinguished by its shape: round head indicates male, and square indicates female. In the western Sudan area of Africa, many peoples have masked fertility ceremonies. The segoni-kun masks that are fashioned by the Bambara in Mali are aesthetically among the most interesting. Antelopes, characterized by their elegant simplicity, are carved in wood and affixed to woven fibre caps that are hung with raffia and cover the wearer. The antelope is believed to have introduced agriculture, and so, when crops are sown, members of Tyiwara society cavort in the fields in pairs to symbolize fertility and abundance.

Death is not the end: Fascinating funeral traditions from around the globe

The funerals I’ve attended have all been very much the same. Relatives and friends arrive in all black and take seats in the church or synagogue pews for a somber ceremony where prayers are said, memories are shared and tears are shed. The attendees walk slowly out to their cars and form a single file line a behind the hearse, arriving at the graveyard where they place roses on the casket just before it’s lowered into the ground. Then, they proceed to the immediate family’s home, where the doorbell rings with a steady stream of loved ones — casserole dishes in hand — since, in the days ahead, people often forget to eat.

Cultural anthropologist Kelli Swazey (TED Talk: Life that doesn’t end with death) shares a different approach to memorializing the dead. In Tana Toraja in eastern Indonesia, funerals are raucous affairs involving the whole village. They can last anywhere from days to weeks. Families save up for long periods of time to raise the resources for a lavish funeral, where sacrificial water buffalo will carry the deceased’s soul to the afterlife. Until that moment — which can take place years after physical death — the dead relative is referred to simply as a “person who is sick,” or even one “who is asleep.” They are laid down special rooms in the family home, where they are symbolically fed, cared for and taken out — very much still a part of their relative’s lives.

Funeral practices are deeply ingrained in culture and around the globe hugely varied traditions reflect a wide spread of beliefs and values. Here, a look at just a few of funeral traditions that might strike someone outside a culture as odd.

The New Orleans jazz funeral. It’s one of the prototypical images of New Orleans, Louisiana: the boisterous, jazz-tinged funeral procession. Fusing West African, French and African-American traditions, funerals in New Orleans strike a unique balance between joy and grief as mourners are lead by a marching band. The band plays sorrowful dirges at first, but once the body is buried, they shift to an upbeat note. Cathartic dancing is generally a part of the event, to commemorate the life of the deceased. [Wikipedia]

South Korean burial beads. In South Korea, a law passed in 2000 requires anyone burying a loved one to remove the grave after 60 years. Because of dwindling graveyard space and this resulting law, cremation has become much more popular. But families don’t always opt for ashes. Several companies there compress remains into gem-like beads in turquoise, pink or black. These “death beads” are then displayed in the home. [The Week]

Filipino death traditions. Many ethnic groups in the Philippines have unique funeral practices. The Benguet of Northwestern Philippines blindfold their dead and place them next to the main entrance of the house their Tinguian neighbors dress bodies in their best clothes, sit them on a chair and place a lit cigarette in their lips. The Caviteño, who live near Manila, bury their dead in a hollowed-out tree trunk. When someone becomes ill, they select the tree where they will eventually be entombed. Meanwhile, the Apayo, who live in the north, bury their dead under the kitchen. [Wikipedia]

Sky burial in Mongolia and Tibet. Many Vajrayana Buddhists in Mongolia and Tibet believe in the transmigration of spirits after death — that the soul moves on, while the body becomes an empty vessel. To return it to the earth, the body is chopped into pieces and placed on a mountaintop, which exposes it to the elements — including vultures. It’s a practice that’s been done for thousands of years and, according to a recent report, about 80% of Tibetans still choose it. [The Buddhist Channel]

Green funerals. In the United States, more and more people are opting for environmentally friendly burials. This means skipping embalming processes, nixing traditional concrete vaults and getting biodegradable, woven-willow caskets, which decompose into the ground. The Green Burial Council has approved 40 environmentally friendly cemeteries in the U.S. — way up from a decade ago. Another option: becoming a memorial “reef ball.” A company called Eternal Reefs compresses remains into a sphere that is attached to a reef in the ocean, providing a habitat for sea life. [Newsweek, Wall Street Journal]

Balinese cremation. “Strange as it seems, it is in their cremation ceremonies that the Balinese have their greatest fun,” Miguel Covarrubias wrote in the 1937 book, Island of Bali. In 2008, the island saw one of its most lavish cremations ever as Agung Suyasa, head of the royal family, was burned along with 68 commoners. Thousands of volunteers gathered to carry a giant bamboo platform, an enormous wooden bull and wooden dragon. After a long procession, Suyasa’s body was eventually placed inside the bull and burned as the dragon stood witness. In the Balinese tradition, cremation releases the soul so it is free to inhabit a new body — and doing this is considered a sacred duty. [The New York Times]

The turning of the bones in Madagascar. The Malagasy people of Madagascar have a famous ritual called “famadihana,” or “the turning of the bones.” Once every five or seven years, a family has a celebration at its ancestral crypt where the bodies, wrapped in cloth, are exhumed and sprayed with wine or perfume. As a band plays at the lively event, family members dance with the bodies. For some, it’s a chance to pass family news to the deceased and ask for their blessings — for others, it’s a time to remember and tell stories of the dead. [The New York Times]

Aboriginal mortuary rites in Australia. When a loved one dies in Aboriginal society in Australia’s Northern Territory, elaborate rituals begin. First, a smoking ceremony is held in the loved one’s living area to drive away their spirit. Next a feast is held, with mourners painted ochre as they partake in food and dance. The body is traditionally placed atop a platform and covered in leaves as it is left to decompose. It has been reported that in some traditions, fluids from the platform can help identify the deceased’s killer. [PubMed]

Ghana fantasy coffins. In Ghana, people aspire to be buried in coffins that represent their work or something they loved in life. These so-called “fantasy coffins” were recently popularized by Buzzfeed, which showed images of 29 outrageous ones, from a coffin shaped like a Mercedes-Benz for a businessman to an oversized fish for a fisherman to a really big Bible for someone who loved going to church. [Buzzfeed]

Also worth noting: it’s not always black that signifies death, as it does in the West — white, purple, grey, green and yellow also mark the passage of life. Check out this visualization from David McCandless (TED Talk: The beauty of data visualization) to see which color is used where: row 16 shows the color associated with death and row 59 reveals the varied colors associated with mourning.

Secrets of the Maya: Deciphering Tikal

Tikal’s great plaza, at the heart of what was one of the most powerful city-states in the Americas, is surrounded by monumental structures: the stepped terraces of the North Acropolis, festooned with grotesque giant masks carved out of plaster and masonry a steep pyramid called Temple I, whose roof comb towers 145 feet above the ground, and its mate across the plaza, TempleII, soaring 125 feet above the grass and a complex of mysterious buildings called the Central Acropolis. At the peak of its glory, around a.d. 750, Tikal was home to at least 60,000 Maya and held sway over several other city-states scattered through the rain forest from the YucatánPeninsula to western Honduras.

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Though magnificent, the ruins of Tikal visible today represent but a fraction of the original city-state. During its heyday, archaeologists say, “downtown” Tikal was about six square miles, though research indicates that the city-state’s population may have sprawled over at least 47 square miles. Yet most of Tikal—the heart of Guatemala’s Tikal National Park, about an hour’s drive northeast of the modern city of Flores—has not even been excavated. And until recently, the same could be said about the nature of the Maya themselves.

For much of the 20th century, Maya experts followed the lead of Carnegie Institution of Washington archaeologist J. Eric Thompson, who argued that the Maya were peaceful philosophers and extraordinary observers of celestial events content to ponder the nature of time and the cosmos. Thompson, who died in 1975, theorized that Tikal and other sites were virtually unpopulated “ceremonial centers” where priests studied planets and stars and the mysteries of the calendar. It was a beautiful vision—but nearly all wrong. “For all of Eric Thompson’s important findings in many areas of Maya studies,” writes anthropologist Michael Coe in his 1992 book Breaking the Maya Code,“he singlehandedly held back the decipherment [of Mayan hieroglyphs] for four decades” and, consequently, the study of the Maya.

When, in the 1960s, the hieroglyphs—the most sophisticated writing system created in the New World—were at last beginning to be deciphered, a new picture of these people emerged. Mayan art and writing, it turned out, contained stories of battles, sacrificial offerings and torture. Far from being peaceful, the Maya were warriors, their kings vainglorious despots. Maya cities were not merely ceremonial instead, they were a patchwork of feudal fiefdoms bent on conquest and living in constant fear of attack. “Blood was the mortar of ancient Maya ritual life,” wrote groundbreaking epigrapher Lin-da Schele and art historian Mary Miller in their 1986 book The Blood of Kings.

It is one of the ironies of this view that evidence for it has long been in plain sight. At the base of Tikal’s North Acropolis stands a row of tall carved stones, or stelae. Each stela depicts a sumptuously bedecked king, and the monoliths are covered in hieroglyphs that, once deciphered, illuminated our view of Maya life.

During the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica in the 16th century, the Catholic Church’s Friar Diego de Landa supervised the burning of hundreds of Maya codices—fig-bark books rich in mythological and astronomical information. Only four Maya codices are known to have survived. And one key to the glyphs from that time was saved: a manuscript that Landa wrote in 1566 about his contact with the Maya. It recorded what he mistakenly thought was the Mayan alphabet. Although parts of his manuscript were first published in 1864, nearly a century would pass before epigraphers understood that Mayan hieroglyphs are actually a combination of symbols using both logographs (words) and syllabic signs (units of sound). However, it was not until the 1970s that the full meaning of many hieroglyphs was understood. Today at least 85 percent of known Mayan texts have been read and translated.

The descendants of the ancient Maya, who long ago lost the ability to read their ancestors’ writings, have been in the midst of a cultural revival. Having weathered the Catholic Church’s suppression of their culture during the 16th and 17th centuries and later endured a string of brutal dictators, including the notorious Efrain Ríos Montt—responsible for the murder of more than 100,000 Maya in the early 1980s— some Maya have begun openly to celebrate their heritage with pilgrimages to Tikal and other sites.

Abandoned by its original inhabitants more than a thousand years ago, the city remained unknown to outsiders for almost a millennium. In 1525, Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés passed within a few dozen miles of the place without learning of it. Likewise, in 1841, the American diplomat, journalist and explorer John Lloyd Stephens and the British illustrator Frederick Catherwood reported with great fanfare their “discovery” of ruins in the Maya region, but they missed Tikal. Guatemalan archives mention that local people lived in Tikal in the 18th century, but the first official expedition to the ruin wasn’t until 1848. Even “Tikal” is a relatively recent name, derived from the Mayan word ti ak’al, or “at the water hole.”

A leader in the field of Mayan epigraphy is David Stuart, who was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1984 at age 18—the youngest recipient of the so-called genius award—for his several publications and papers about deciphering Mayan hieroglyphs. He defined some previously unknown glyphs and refined the spelling rules of the Mayan writing system. Now 38, Stuart is the curator of Mayan hieroglyphs at HarvardUniversity’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. He has a special fondness for Tikal. “It’s the atmosphere of the place,” Stuart says. “Tikal is simply one of the most overpowering archaeological sites in the world.”

Though Tikal may have been settled by at least 600 b.c., most of the city’s edifices were built during what is called the Classic period of Maya history, from a.d. 250 to 900. It was a time when the Maya created great artwork and amazing architecture across the region (see “Of Majesty and Mayhem,” p. 49). Recent finds may yet force scholars to redefine the beginning of this period. This spring, archaeologists working at the nearby city of Cival uncovered evidence that distinctively Mayan art and writing may have developed as early as 300 b.c., and a wall painting dating to about a.d. 100, the oldest known intact Maya mural to date, was discovered in an 80-foot-high pyramid at the ruins of San Bartolo, a ceremonial site in Guatemala. Still,Tikal stands out. “The buildings at Tikal are particularly well built, and they have stood up quite well against the onslaught of the jungle,” says Stan Loten, an architectural archaeologist and retired professor who conducted surface surveys of Tikal’s standing structures from 1964 to 1970.

Beginning in the 1880s, well before other glyphs yielded up their meanings, researchers began decoding the Maya calendar from glyphs on stelae at sites all over the Maya world. Most stelae include the date of their creation, written in a five-number sequence known to scholars as the Long Count, or the number of days since the beginning of this current era. This system is built on a base of 20 rather than 10 and is made up of glyphs and combinations of a single dot for “one,” a bar for “five,” and a glyph that translated to mih, or “zero.” Once scholars figured out this system, they were able to correlate it with the Gregorian calendar, revealing an astonishing sense of time: the Long Count starts in 3114 b.c. The earliest dated monument yet discovered in Tikal and all of the Maya lowlands, Stela 29, has a Long Count date of, which translates to a.d. 292.

Understanding this calendar was an important step in understanding the history of the Maya. Of all the dated stelae found at Tikal, not one is from between a.d. 562 and 692. This period of monumental silence is known as the Hiatus. For decades, scholars were at a loss to explain what happened during those years. But after the discovery of the Long Count, one of the next breakthroughs in deciphering the Mayan writing system was recognizing what experts call the emblem glyph—a unique hieroglyph that represents a specific city-state. Tikal’s emblem glyph is read as mutal, which is based on the word mut, meaning “bound” or “tied.” The glyph resembles how a ruler’s tied-back hair might look from behind (see stela, page 46), and appears on stelae in ancient Maya city-states as far away as Copán, about 180 miles to the southeast. But why?

As experts translated more glyphs, they learned that Tikal had lost a war with Caracol, a Maya city in present-day Belize. The evidence is a boast of the victory, in a.d. 562, inscribed on an altar found in Caracol. That crushing defeat must have hung over Tikal like a pall. Before the glyphs were read, no archaeologist would have dreamed that Caracol, though a substantial city-state, could have laid low the mighty Tikal. Other stelae at Caracol suggest that the key to its triumph was an alliance with Calakmul, another Maya powerhouse in present-day Mexico. For more than 100 years, then, Tikal may have been a conquered city-state, languishing in thrall to foreign rulers.

Somehow, Tikal recovered. In 672, the city launched a war against Dos Pilas, about 70 miles to the southwest. An upstart Maya city less than 50 years old at the time, Dos Pilas had the nerve to use Tikal’s emblem glyph, calling itself in effect “New Tikal.” In the war, Tikal was triumphant. Glyphcovered stone stairways at Dos Pilas record the city’s defeat.

So explicit are Mayan glyphs that archaeologists have by now compiled a chronology of 33 rulers of Tikal (including at least one queen) spanning 800 years. Scholars formerly named these rulers after the glyphs that signified them, such as Double Bird, Jaguar Paw and Curl Snout. As epigraphers learned to sound out the glyphs, they assigned phonetic names. The architect of the first phase of Tikal’s revival was Nuun Ujol Chaak, a warrior king also known as Shield Skull.

Nuun Ujol Chaak’s era was hardly peaceful. As a young king, he fled Tikal when Calakmul declared war in a.d. 657. But he returned to lead Tikal’s defeat of Dos Pilas in 672. Then, only five years later, Nuun Ujol Chaak lost again to Dos Pilas, which was most likely collaborating with Calakmul, probably the greatest Maya power at the end of the seventh century. Victory over Tikal’s rivals was finally achieved by his son, Jasaw Chan K’awiil I, on August 5, 695. A drawing on a building in the Central Acropolis shows Jasaw carried in triumph into the city on a litter, leading his captive— perhaps the defeated lord of Calakmul—by a tether.

Templeiv, erected about a.d. 741, is a dizzying pyramid that stands 212 feet above the ground, the tallest Maya structure ever built. Only the upper levels of TempleIV have been restored, but thanks to a pair of wooden staircases that surmount the rubble, visitors can climb nearly to the top of this structure for the finest view at Tikal. A seemingly limitless green expanse of rain forest billows into the distance like waves on a chlorophyll ocean. There is no sign of any other human settlement.

Yet hidden in the jungle below is another of Tikal’s mysteries. The Lost World is a complex of pyramids and buildings southwest of the GreatPlaza. It was excavated and restored between 1979 and 1985 by Guatemalan archaeologists working on the Tikal National Project. The area, according to Guatemalan epigrapher Federico Fahsen, served as an observatory from about 500 b.c. to a.d. 250. During the early Classic period, it vied with the North Acropolis as the ceremonial epicenter of Tikal and served as a royal burial ground.

Around the Lost World, architectural and artistic features suggest Tikal had links to Teotihuacán, a city in the highlands of Mexico whose culture flourished between a.d. 150 and 650, entirely separate from the Maya. Because Teotihuacán lies 630 miles from Tikal, many scholars originally doubted that the two empires were even aware of the other’s existence. Yet ceramic designs found at Tikal and other Maya sites seem to mirror the iconography of the Teotihuacán culture—especially its grim-visaged storm god, Tlaloc.

Only six years ago, David Stuart untangled a series of fourth-century glyphic texts from Tikal’s Stela 31 that helped connect the two empires. Remarkably, he was able to read the glyph that confirmed scholarly speculation pinpointing the day when a lord from Teotihuacán named Siyah K’ak’, or Fire is Born, arrived at Tikal: a.d. January 31, 378. It is probably no coincidence that the 14th king of Tikal, Chak Tok Ich’aak I, long known as Jaguar Paw, died the same day. The impact that other civilizations have had on the Maya is just beginning to be understood, researchers say.

Perhaps the greatest Maya mystery of all is the cause of the civilization’s abrupt decline. The last dated stela erected at Tikal was put up in a.d. 869 the last anywhere in the Maya world, in 909. The causes of what University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Robert Sharer calls “one of the most profound cultural failures in human history” have been debated for a century. The stelae are no help—the collapse seems to have ended most of the carving. Most likely, researchers speculate, a severe drought devastated a society that was already suffering from overpopulation and famine.

Tikal still keeps some secrets. Scanning a map of the ruins laid out on his desk, Stuart points to an area of nameless, unexcavated mounds just south of the Lost World. “I’ve always been curious about this group,” Stuart says. “You can spend five or six years digging a site and not greatly change our understanding of Classic Maya civilization. What changes it is the fortuitous discovery of a new inscription.” His finger rests on the area. “Who knows what you might find there?”

Painting of the Early Dynastic Period

The Early Dynastic Period of Ancient Egypt reached a high level in painting and sculpture that was both highly stylized and symbolic.

Learning Objectives

Describe the characteristics of painting and sculpture during the Early Dynastic Period

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Much of the surviving art of the Early Dynastic Period of Egypt comes from tombs and monuments, and thus there is an emphasis on life after death and the preservation of knowledge of the past.
  • All Egyptian reliefs were painted, and less prestigious works in tombs, temples, and palaces were just painted on a flat surface.
  • Egyptian paintings are painted in such a way to show a profile view and a side view of the animal or person, a technique known as composite view.
  • The Egyptians used the distinctive technique of sunk relief , which is well suited to very bright sunlight.
  • By Dynasty IV (2680–2565 BCE) at the latest, the idea of the Ka statue was firmly established. These were put in tombs as a resting place for the ka portion of the soul.

Key Terms

  • relief:A type of artwork in which shapes or figures protrude from a flat background.
  • Ka statue:A type of ancient Egyptian statue intended to provide a resting place for the ka, or spirit, of the person after death. The ancient Egyptians believed the ka (or life-force), along with the physical body, the name, the ba (personality or soul), and the šwt (shadow) made up the five aspects of a person.

Ancient Egyptian art reached a high level in painting and sculpture , and was both highly stylized and symbolic. Much of the surviving art comes from tombs and monuments, and thus there is an emphasis on life after death and the preservation of knowledge of the past.


All Egyptian reliefs were painted, and less prestigious works in tombs, temples, and palaces were just painted on a flat surface. Stone surfaces were prepared by whitewash, or, if rough, a layer of coarse mud plaster, with a smoother gesso layer above some finer limestones could take paint directly. Pigments were mostly mineral, chosen to withstand strong sunlight without fading. The binding medium used in painting remains unclear egg tempera and various gums and resins have been suggested. It is clear that true fresco , painted into a thin layer of wet plaster, was not used. Instead the paint was applied to dried plaster, in what is called fresco a secco in Italian. After painting, a varnish or resin was usually applied as a protective coating, and many paintings with some exposure to the elements have survived remarkably well, although those on fully exposed walls rarely have. Small objects including wooden statuettes were often painted using similar techniques.

Many ancient Egyptian paintings have survived due to Egypt’s extremely dry climate. The paintings were often made with the intent of making a pleasant afterlife for the deceased. The themes included journey through the afterworld or protective deities introducing the deceased to the gods of the underworld (such as Osiris). Some tomb paintings show activities that the deceased were involved in when they were alive and wished to carry on doing for eternity. Egyptian paintings are painted in such a way to show a profile view and a side view of the animal or person—a technique known as composite view. Their main colors were red, blue, black, gold, and green.

Wall painting of Nefertari: Egyptian paintings are painted in such a way to show a profile view and a side view of the animal or person. This painting, for example, shows the head from a profile view and the body from a frontal view. The main colors used were red, blue, black, gold, and green.


The monumental sculpture of Ancient Egypt is world famous, but refined and delicate small works exist in much greater numbers. The Egyptians used the distinctive technique of sunk relief, which is well suited to very bright sunlight. The main figures in reliefs adhere to the same figure convention as in painting, with parted legs (where not seated) and head shown from the side, but the torso from the front, and a standard set of proportions making up the figure, using 18 “fists” to go from the ground to the hair-line on the forehead. This appears as early as the Narmer Palette from Dynasty I, but elsewhere the convention is not used for minor figures shown engaged in some activity, such as the captives and corpses. Other conventions make statues of males darker than females. Very conventionalized portrait statues appear from as early as Dynasty II (before 2,780 BCE), and, with the exception of the art of the Amarna period of Ahkenaten and some other periods such as Dynasty XII, the idealized features of rulers changed little until after the Greek conquest.

A sculpted head of Amenhotep III: Very conventionalized portrait statues manifest idealized features of rulers.

By Dynasty IV (2680–2565 BCE) at the latest, the idea of the Ka statue was firmly established. These were put in tombs as a resting place for the ka portion of the soul. The so-called reserve heads, or plain hairless heads, are especially naturalistic, though the extent to which there was real portraiture in Ancient Egypt is still debated.

Early tombs also contained small models of the slaves, animals, buildings and objects – such as boats necessary for the deceased to continue his lifestyle in the afterworld – and later Ushabti figures. However, the great majority of wooden sculpture has been lost to decay, or probably used as fuel. Small figures of deities, or their animal personifications, are commonly found in popular materials such as pottery . There were also large numbers of small carved objects, from figures of the gods to toys and carved utensils. Alabaster was often used for expensive versions of these, while painted wood was the most common material, normally used for the small models of animals, slaves, and possessions that were placed in tombs to provide for the afterlife.

Very strict conventions were followed while crafting statues, and specific rules governed the appearance of every Egyptian god. For example, the sky god (Horus) was essentially to be represented with a falcon’s head, while the god of funeral rites (Anubis) was to be always shown with a jackal’s head. Artistic works were ranked according to their compliance with these conventions, and the conventions were followed so strictly that, over three thousand years, the appearance of statues changed very little. These conventions were intended to convey the timeless and non-aging quality of the figure’s ka.

Funeral Stele of Artistion - History

Caring for your own dead began to change dramatically during the Civil War.
Soldiers were dying on the battlefield, and their families would want them sent
home for burial. This is when the practice of embalming, for shipping bodies over
a long distance, first began to take place. Dr. Auguste Renouard (1839-1912), a
U.S. Physician, was one of the early leaders in the field, laying the groundwork
for present day embalming methods.

During this time period, the family graveyard was moving towards the more park
like settings of the local cemetery. Also, the United States, established a number of
national military cemeteries, where members of the armed forces were and
continue to be buried.

Soon after came the Undertakers, who undertook this duty for the families at a
time of need. It was not long before this became the normal way for families to
take care of their dead.

Over time, Undertakers become known as Morticians and Funeral Directors. In
the beginning of the 1900's, the newly formed National Funeral Directors
Association was pressing its members to consider themselves "professionals," not
tradesmen as the earlier coffin-makers had been. Regular use of embalming was
encouraged, and the new "professionals" used it to suggest they were keepers of
the public health.

Watch the video: Obamastove - Behind the artisans


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