Traumatic skull injuries reveal Mayans used spiked clubs
Archaeological clues such as fortified defences, remains of obsidian blades and projectile points, as well as numerous murals depicting warfare, suggest that Mayan society was not a peaceful one. The Mayans are known to have used a variety of weapons in war, such as blow guns, spears, daggers, and javelins, and now for the first time, scientists have found evidence that they also used spiked clubs which inflicted catastrophic injuries on their victims.
Evidence for the new weapon comes from the study of 116 skulls dated between 600 BC and 1542 AD, which were recovered from 13 sites, including the important Mayan capital of Mayapan, in northwest Yucatan, Mexico. The research published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology has revealed that the pattern of injuries seen in some of the skulls are consistent with being struck by a club with points embedded in them.
An example of a spiked club, which may have been similar to the clubs used by the Mayans.
Study author Dr Stan Serafin, a bioarchaeologist from Central Queensland University, said that the team examined the location, frequency, and shape of skull trauma injuries, such as the presence of unusual oval-shaped indentations, and concluded that these indicated the use of a spiked club.
The scientists also discovered that males had fractures concentrated on the front left of the skull, indicating that they were struck by a right-handed opponent approaching from the front, while a smaller number of female skulls showed injuries at the back, suggesting evidence of a surprise attack.
Wars were important to the Mayans for a variety of reasons, including subjugation of neighbouring city-states, acquisition of territory, prestige, control of resources, and capture of prisoners for slaves and sacrifices. Very little is known about what caused the sudden decline of the Mayan civilization in the late Classic period between 700 and 900 AD, in which towns and cities became depopulated and abandoned, but many have attributed it to the relentless warfare taking place.
However, in contrast to this theory, Serafin reported that the frequency of the skull trauma decreased during the late Classic period, which suggests that warfare “did not contribute to the Classic period collapse in this area." The researchers did find violence increased in the Post-Classic period, which Serafin says is to be expected since hard times tend to breed violence.
The study adds new insight into Mayan warfare and challenges the prominent theory that warfare was the cause of their downfall, leaving open the question as to what it was that caused a once great and powerful civilization to fall.
Featured image: The Bonampak murals depicting war scenes. Photo source.