The mystery of the jade head
Altun Ha is a familiar Mayan name in many Belizean households. It appears on every Belikin beer bottle, but most importantly it is the venue where the famous jade head was discovered in 1968. But who has the full story about Altun Ha, the Jade Head and the legacy of the Mayas? Well, if you can’t say you do, don’t be putt off. And that is why the Archaeology Department held a one day display of some very unique Mayan Artifacts at the Bliss Centre for the Performing Arts. The priceless jade head was among the treasures and News Five Marion Ali viewed the display.
Marion Ali, Reporting
The heavily armed guards at the Bliss Centre for the Performing Arts on Wednesday were no suggestion that some form of violence or crime had occurred. In fact, these officers were there to prevent that from happening. The Archaeological Department held a one-day display and information awareness on priceless Mayan artefacts. There were these pieces of flint, jewelry, obsidian, sea shells and pottery, which Associate Director at the Institute of Archaeology, George Thompson, says date back to an important era and they all had specific purposes.
George Thompson, Associate Director, Institute of Archaeology
“The same way we use gold in our present society, it was the same way the Mayans revered jade. So what they did was to work it into different object.”
Among the gems was this piece. Weighing in at nine and three quarter pounds, and standing six inches tall, this beauty was retrieved from the historic Altun Ha some thirty-one miles north of Belize City on the Old Northern Highway. The discovery was made in 1968 by Dr. David Pendergast of the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada. It was found along with forty other Mayan carvings inside a large tomb. It is believed that the gem was commissioned by an important ruler to commemorate a momentous event in his life. Its unique features depict Mayan divinity.
“Nowhere else in the entire Maya area has any other item ever been found that is of the size and the workmanship that is represented in the jade head. It is a representation of the Mayan sun god, Kinich Ahau. We can tell that because of the cross eyed featured, the Ahau glyph on its forehead as well as the carved depiction on both sides of the jade head. For us as a country, we revere the jade head as a priceless object mainly because there is no more jade head in the rest of the world. It is a one of a kind item and for us and the fact that it was found at Altun Ha, one of our archaeological site makes it even more special to us. While we do not the exact age of the jade head, what we have done is to date the jade head in association with the artifacts that we have one display. All the artifcats found in the tomb at Altun Ha dates to approximately 600-650AD. That makes all these pieces that you see here, they are approximately one thousand four hundred years old. Clearly when you look at the workmanship of the jade head, it is extremely exquisite work. It is a unique piece so the artist who manufactured the jade head was an artist of the highest calibre at that time. In terms of tools, when it was made the ancient Maya had no metal tools of any sort so all the workmanship was done by stone tools, bone tools and using sand as abrasive to polish and give it the sheen that we see on the jade head today. The replicas that are around it are just made from ceramic which is a fired clay and easily breakable but we have not had any other object made of jade and of similar workmanship as the jade head.”
After its discovery, the jade head was taken to Canada for detailed analyses before it was returned to Belize. And when we spoke with a couple students at the exhibition on Wednesday, they were proud that theirs is the country which boasts such wonders.
Felicia Quan, Student, Belize Elementary School
“It’s really great that Belize has such a treasure and like they said, it’s our national treasure and it’s such a cherished thing. It’s really great.”
“Which is your favourite?”
Brannon Thomson, Student, Belize Elementary School
“The jade head because it’s colourful and shiny and it’s a Mayan piece. The jade head is just, I don’t know but it’s just nice to see.”
It was also interesting was that the students took copious notes on about the centuries old gems that were once everyday tools or ornaments. Reporting for News Five, Marion Ali.
The jade head is normally kept at the Central Bank vault for safe-keeping.