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Sacred Plants Of The Maya Forest

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Author Topic: Sacred Plants Of The Maya Forest  (Read 275 times)
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« on: June 05, 2009, 08:11:14 am »

In particular, the two men searched for depictions of bombacoids, a diverse lineage of trees in the Neotropics characterised by swollen or spiny trunks and big, colourful, conspicuous flowers with long folding petals.

Across different ceramics, Zidar and Elisens found depictions of five species.

"I was surprised that a variety of plants from this family were depicted," says Zidar.

The Maya clearly depicted the cebia tree (Ceiba pentandra) also known as the Silk Cotton or Kapok tree.

Trees of the Ceiba genus can grow up to 50m tall, with swollen trunks producing large buttresses.

White blooms on ceramic: Quararibea painted on a cup for drinking chocolate

To the Maya, the ceiba tree was sacred, mapping out the upper, middle and underworlds.

Considered the "first tree", or "world tree", the ceiba was thought to stand at the centre of the Earth. Modern indigenous people still often leave the tree alone out of respect when harvesting forest wood.

The thorny trunks of the ceiba tree are represented by ceramic pots used as burial urns or incense holders, which are designed in a strikingly similar fashion. Two other tree species, the Provision Tree (Pachira aquatica) and the Shaving Bush Tree (Pseudobombax ellipticum) are also copied into the designs of similar pots.

On cacao pots and a plate for holding tamales, made from dough, the Maya drew flowers of either P. ellipticum or P. aquatica. On the cacao pot, the flowers seem to form part of the headdress of a high ranging individual.

Smaller white-flowered blossoms of Quararibea funebris or Q. quatemalteca also appear to adorn another vessel used for cacao drinking. The Maya used this species to flavour and froth cacao beverages so it is appropriate for them to represent the plant on the vessel, says Zidar.

"It was previously thought that only the ceiba tree was of great importance," says Zidar.
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