Ancient Mexican mural depicting drunken revelry revealed for the first time
An ancient mural which depicts a scene of drunken revelry as part of a pre-Hispanic ceremony dedicated to the goddess Mayahuel, is being opened up to the public for the first time, according to a report in Past Horizons. The 1,800-year-old mural provides the first evidence of the ritualistic consumption of pulque, an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the agave plant.
The mural, known as Los Bebedores or ‘The Drinkers’, was first discovered in 1969 but has remained hidden from public view. An initiative was instituted a decade ago by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) to look into conservation of the mural, and visitors can now see the mural at the Mexican archaeological zone of Cholula near Puebla for a limited period.
The Mural of Drinkers was found by Ponciano Salazar Ortegón at a depth of almost 7.6 metres, located on a lower level of the Plaza of Altars in Cholula and dates to around 200 AD. Measuring over 60 metres in length, it is one of the longest pre-Columbian murals found in Mexico. The subject of the mural is a ceremonial feast, featuring 164 people drinking pulque, identified by the white colour of the liquid and a number of other elements in the mural, such as the cups and jars, which are associated with the drinking of pulque. The figures are engaged in various activities, including drinking, making offerings, serving, and even vomiting and defecating. They all appear to be in a state of intoxication.
Character holding a small vessel. Mural drinkers. Photo Héctor Montaño INAH
Pulque is an alcoholic drink that is traditional to central Mexico, where it has been produced for millennia. It has the colour of milk, somewhat viscous consistency and a sour yeast-like taste. The drink’s history extends far back into the Mesoamerican period, when it was considered sacred, and its use was limited to certain classes of people. There are many references in Aztec codices of pulque use by nobility and priesthood to celebrate victories. Among commoners, it was permitted only to the elderly and pregnant women. It was also drunk at rituals by priests and sacrificial victims, to increase the priests' enthusiasm and to ease the suffering of the victim.
Bottle filled with pulque at a roadside stand in Zacatlán, Puebla, Mexico. Source: Wikipedia
Various stories and myths have developed surrounding the origins of pulque. Most involve Mayahuel, the goddess of the maguey (agave plant). It was thought that the sap in the centre of the agave plant was her blood. The festivities celebrating Mayahuel, the deity of pulque, was one of the few occasions that drunkenness was allowed.
The goddess Mayahuel. Source: Wikipedia
After the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, the drink became secular and its consumption rose. The consumption of pulque reached its peak in the late 19th century. In the 20th century, the drink fell into decline, mostly because of competition from beer, which became more prevalent with the arrival of European immigrants.
Featured image: The Mural of the Drinkers. Image source.