Copyright Justin Kerr K4829

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CARVED MIRROR-BACK WITH HIEROGLYPHS
Guatemalan Lowlands
Early Classic Maya
A.D. 200-600
Greenish slate with red cinnabar
Diam. 15.3 cm (6")

Portable objects such as earspools, vases, and plates, were often named in the texts that were inscribed or carved on them. Buildings and stelae were also named in the texts that dedicated those monuments.

This exquisitely carved mirror back, with it's inscription of elegant glyphs, bears a text that gives its history. The first glyph in the sentence names the object u nen (his mirror). The text then notes the ruler's name and the emblem glyph for Calakmul, and informs us that his father was also a ruler of the same site. The mirror is pierced with dual holes on opposite sides, probably for attachment to a frame of wood or ceramic.

Mirrors served as objects of magic and mysticism. The God of royalty, God "K", wears as his symbol, a mirror in his forehead, flashing light in the form of a flare or torch. In representations of palace scenes, it is only the ruler who is shown looking into a mirror. Even a captured ruler, at the point of his death, is allowed to see his image in a royal mirror. Mirrors were part of associated "death paraphernalia," which included cache bundles, rolls of cloth, and food offerings. Supernatural scribes often wear mirrors as pendants and shamans performed their magic using the shining depths of pyrite and obsidian. The "dark" mirrors of obsidian and the "bright" mirrors made of pyrite reflected the worlds in which gods and humans lived.

John Carlson, who has studied ancient mirrors extensively, has shown how perfect concave surfaces can be manufactured using the rather simple technique of rubbing together two mirror blanks with a round stone between them. A flat mirror such as this is made by assembling sections of pyrite or obsidian, grinding the edges of the pieces so that they fit as seamlessly as possible, and affixing them to a backing covered with a matrix of resin. The entire assemblage is then ground and polished on a flat stone metate using powdered pyrite or obsidian and water. A final polish is applied using powdered hematite (iron oxide).

Brilliantly reflective surfaces were produced so that true images could be seen in the dark surfaces of these mirrors, a veritable window to the other world.

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