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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ancient Civilizations

Ancient Civilizations

Jaguar images have been part of art and rituals from throughout the jaguar’s native habitat for centuries, and now serve as a symbol in many places outside the species’ range. Studying how the jaguar has been portrayed through time around the world helps us to realize different perspectives which affect jaguar conservation. Exploring the various artistic and written portraits of jaguars can tell us about jaguar and human history, as well as the important cultural legacy that will vanish if jaguars become extinct. Explore these five ancient civilizations from Central and South America to see how the jaguar was portrayed in their culture.

Chavin civilization (1500 BC - 300 BC)

Chavin civilization was located along the coastline of Peru. Over 5,000 years ago, the people of the Chavin culture of the Andes were carving stone jaguars.

Olmec civilization (1200 BC - 600 AC)

Olmec civilization went from 1200 BC through 600 AD and spanned Central and Southern Mexico, and Nothern Central America. Its heartland lies in the states of Veracruz and Tabasco, at the narrow part of Mexico west of the Yucatan peninsula and east of Oaxaca.

The Olmec people of Mexico’s Gulf Coast, one of the first major civilizations in Central America, worshipped the "were-jaguar." This half-jaguar being was portrayed as having the body of a human child with a cleft head and the snarling face of a jaguar. Little survives of the Olmec culture and the full significance of those strange and disturbing figures is not understood, but the Olmec appear to have passed their fascination with jaguars on to the Maya.

Mayan civilization (250AC to 1400 AC)

The Maya believed the jaguar was a night god and that its skin symbolized the night sky. Eclipses were caused by the jaguar god eating the sun.

The rulers of the Maya culture took onto themselves the mystical power of the jaguar by giving themselves names like Shield Jaguar the Great and Great Jaguar Paw. The jaguar was also a pervasive theme in Mayan art and architecture. At the great ruined city of Chichen-Itza in Yucatan, stand the ruins of the Temple of Jaguars, with jaguar sculptures dominating the building and carved jaguar features staring across the centuries at the fascinated visitors.

Inca civilization (1450AC to 1532 AC)

Inca civilization was brief. Its roots go to 1200, but the Inca empire truly started in the 1450s and only lasted until 1532, when Spanish troops led by Francisco Pizarro arrived in Peru. The civilization extended from what is today the border zone of Colombia and Ecuador to the central parts of Chile.

The Incas revered both jaguars and panthers. The jaguar was identified with the god Vivacocha, and was also seen as a spirit of the night.

Aztec civilization (1325 AC to 1519 AC)

The jaguar also played an important role in the culture of the Aztec, representing the earth and the underworld and attending the god of the night sky. Jaguars also represented other gods and were the symbol of an elite military order. The Aztecs fed the hearts of sacrificial victims to jaguar.
 How is the jaguar used as a symbol today? Think of examples from literature, art, sports, entertainment, advertising, etc.