THE ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE OF YAXCHILAN
THE ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE OF YAXCHILAN
The Superior Sauna team hit the road at 6am yesterday morning, this time heading southeast to the Archaeological site of Yaxchilan. The site is located on the border of Mexico and Guatemala along the Usumacinta River. The research team arrived at the boat launch at approximately 10am and piled into a gondola-style boat called a ‘lancha’. From there, they traveled an hour to the site - passing alligators and a dead cow drifting down the river along the way.
Upon their arrival, the team hiked 800 meters to find the ancient Mayan city of Yaxchilan. The rugged hiking trail had remains from an ancient stone pathway that was once home to shops and trading centers running beside the river, leading the way to the sacred location.
The first report of Yaxchilan was by a young explorer, Juan Galindo in 1833, published by the Royal Geographical Society in 1881; however, the first documented experience was in 1892 AD by Maudsley when he came and stole lentils from the abandoned city. Maudsley had permission to take lentils from the Guatemala side but happened upon Yaxchilan where he struck gold – and by gold we mean lentils. Sometime later, Charnay arrived at the site and was believed to be the first explorer to discover the ruins until he happened upon Maudsley and his crew. Charnay had high hopes to name the city and stake his claim, so in order to accomplish his mission, he made a deal with Maudsley and promised not to turn him in for stealing if he could claim to be the first explorer to discover the land. In the end, Yaxchilan received its name from a small creek that ran by the town and into the river.
One of the reasons Yaxchilan is so famous is because of its location. Like most Mayan sites, this one was constructed in a place where the river boasted roaring rapids and tended to be quite difficult to navigate. Why would the Mayans build on a place such as this? Because they realized travelers would have to stop at some point. They used this challenge to their advantage by taxing travelers that would pass through.
THE YAXCHILAN STEAM ROOM
As you enter the city plaza, one of the first ruins you’ll spot is the steam room - also referred to as “pipinas”, which means the house underground. Travelers would stop there to bathe and cleanse their bodies and souls before entering the holy land. This steam room was believed to have been built for religious ceremonies, hygiene, and to enhance one’s overall health and wellness.
One would bathe in the steam room after traveling for weeks on the river. The same techniques that were used in Palenque were also utilized here – a combination of hot stones, water, and a blend of herbs and plants to heal various ailments. Some patrons would utilize the site for religious ceremonies, offerings, and prayer. The goal was to be blessed and purified before entering the city and being in the presence of the gods.
One of the team’s guides, Alberto Gomez-Cruz, is of Mayan descent and gave an outstanding interview in his native Mayan tongue, and graciously translated to English for the video.
“We can see that this Mayan city is very close to the river. This steam bath is how we would talk to our ancestors and do our rituals. This wasn’t merely a shower or an opportunity to simply relax your body, it was so much more. It connects you to the gods and enhances your spiritual life. You go in to mediate and consent to your mind. It truly becomes a spiritual connection to the gods. We’ve seen women who were pregnant go in before and after birth to bless their unborn child and heal their bodies after delivery. In some ways, many of the rituals are still used. When you go where the gods are you should be shiny and pure,” says Alberto.
This particular steam room was measured at 6’ 10” x 6’ 3”. It featured one large room that had a stone altar in the middle, which was most likely where the stones were placed. In Palenque, the steam room was located in an administrative building, but in Yaxchilan the room stood alone, having space for more people. There have been no reports to show what organics were used in the steam room because no one has done the research to see what pollen residue was left. We know eucalyptus, pepper, rosemary, and mullein are among some popular herbs and plants that they would use, but we also know that each shaman would grow their own gardens full of plants that were only to be used in the steam rooms.
None of the hot stones were left behind at this site, either. Alfonso is confident that they used volcanic rock due to its ability to withstand such high temperatures. If you were to heat limestone, it would explode, so the type of rock that was used was extremely important.
INTO THE NIGHT
As the crew wrapped up their filming for the day, they packed up and headed back to the boat launch, where the dead cow they had passed at the beginning of the trip had finally caught up to them. Mark pointed out some toucans soaring above the team in the trees, and James Netz captured an amazing shot of an alligator with butterflies resting on its head. They arrived back at Chan-Kah Resort Village late that night, where they rested for their next adventure to Bonampak the next morning.
- Josh Kummerow