Monday, May 15, 2017

WOVEN MEMORIES – Traditional Maya Weaving and Book of Mormon Connections
by Mark F. Cheney (Adapted from article in IMS EXPLORER - May 2017)
Mesoamerican cultures have been profoundly influenced by their clothing and textiles. Even ancient Olmec stone sculptures have shown what look like “magnificent textiles” per Michael Coe and Richard A. Diehl’s In the Land of the Olmec: The Archaeology of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán. The clothing revealed on Maya painted vases and in murals as found at Bonampak is described as “sumptuous” by Patricia Rieff Anawalt in her book Indian Clothing before Cortés.
Even for the modern Maya, traditional dress plays an essential role identifying members of various indigenous communities. Worn as a symbol of ethnic pride and for religious ceremonies, textiles are both personal and cultural modes of expression, as well as wonderfully marketable products for the tourist industry.
A traditional pati or manta
Maya women traditionally wore a long wrap-around skirt and a huipil (Náhuatl word), a loose cotton tunic, and some wore a simple mantle that covered their breasts, called a pati (or sometimes a manta), see example above.
Fibers, Tools and Dyes
Anciently, fabric similar to linen, which is made from the flax plant, was made from the fibers called henequen from agave, maguey or yucca fronds. Bernal Díaz del Castillo, a soldier under Cortés and chronicler of the conquest, said the clothing of the natives was “like linen” in his The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico.
In Anawalt’s above-described book, she wrote that silk was spun from the cocoons of wild moths. Another reference states, “Wild silk was produced by the Gloveria paidii, a moth, and the Eucheira socialis, a butterfly, found in the Oaxaca, Mexico, area” (de Ávila Blomberg, 1997).
It is suggested by de Ávila Blomberg that wild silk was used in Oaxaca in Precolumbian times, a theory that has been greatly debated. However, in a 1777 document, an excavation of a Precolumbian burial site is described as containing “wild silk” according to Careyn Patricia Armitage from her research, “Silk production and its impact on families and communities in Oaxaca, Mexico,” in graduate theses and dissertations, Iowa State University (2008). The above references almost certainly confirm the meaning of the Book of Mormon scriptures speaking of people having “abundance of silk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of good homely cloth” (Alma 1:29, 4:6; Mosiah 10:5 and Helaman 6:13).
The tool most often used traditionally by the women is the ubiquitous backdrop or “back-strap” loom as shown in the Florentine Codex. The famous Florentine Codex is one of the most important sources on early Mexican crafts and techniques. This codex is a treatise with the full title of Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España, written in the sixteenth century. The author, Friar Bernardino de Sahagún, interviewed indigenous people about various aspects of their lives and recorded their descriptions in Náhuatl.

Depiction of back-strap loom in use as shown in the Florentine Codex - “Virtuous Daughter”
In the Yucatan kapok fibers from the seed pods of the sacred ceiba tree were twisted and spun into a “soft and delicate” cloth similar to silk per Clavigero’s History of Mexico I, as translated by Cullen. Sadly, cloth did not hold up well over the centuries in the Mesoamerican climate. Besides vegetable fibers, more esoteric cloth was woven from cotton and rabbit fur (note samples shown in the photos below).

(L) Textile of cotton and rabbit fur and (R) textile of vegetable fiber, both from Acatlan Cave.  Photos above are by David C. Grove, published at
                    Beyond the fabrics used anciently, however, are dyes made from crushed seashells, plants and insects, and designs that have changed some over the centuries, but the fact that they have endured at all is a cultural miracle.
A recent article on the Jewish News Service website,, reports finding an important seashell on the temple mount. To quote from that article: “An ancient sea snail shell discovered on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem has created tremendous interest among researchers, who believe the find ties in with the particular shade of vibrant blue dye ("tchelet" in Hebrew) used in ancient times to color the fringes of religious garments. The shell of the branded dye-murex (Hexaplex trunculus) snail was recently discovered as part of the Temple Mount Sifting Project… Dvira said the snail's mucus secretions produced the unique shade of blue used to dye the ritual fringed garments, cloths for use in the Temple, and the clothing of the ancient priests. The rabbinical sages had deemed the species kosher (snails in general are not) so the dye could be used.” (See )  This could be cited as evidence of trans-oceanic cultural transfer, especially since “Nephi did build a temple” and “…did consecrate Jacob and Joseph, that they should be priests and teachers over the land of my people” (2 Nephi 5:16 & 26). It is presumed that they fulfilled their callings in said temple under the Mosaic law spoken of in Jarom 1:5 & 11, etc.
In my modest collection of things Mesoamerican, one of my most prized possessions is a large (30" x 30") tapestry that I purchased from its creator in Santiago Atitlan on a trip to Guatemala in 1995. In researching this article, I found a photo of a golden tapestry of a strikingly similar design which had been sold at auction online.

Top) The tapestry I procured in Santiago Atitlan. Btm.) Intricate golden tapestry in online auction.
Additional Resources
Three wonderful, recent books with beautiful photos are: Oaxaca Stories in Cloth, by Eric Sebastian Mindling (2016), Traditional Weavers of Guatemala: Their Stories, Their Lives, by Deborah Chandler and Teresa Cordón (authors) and Joe Coca (photographer (2015), and Maya Threads: A Woven History of Chiapas, by Walter F. Morris, Jr. and Carol Karasik, along with Janet Schwartz (photographer, except as noted, 2015). Maya Threads was reviewed in the April 2016 IMS Explorer.
In the more scholarly book by Tia Tohveri, PhD, Weaving with the Maya: Innovation and Tradition in Guatemala (2012), she explains that “The link between weaving and creation goes back to Precolumbian times... The creation of cloth and the act of weaving itself is considered a gift from the Goddess IxChel; she wove the colorful rainbows in the sky and manifested the skill of making patterns to the Maya women in times past.”
For those wanting to look further into this amazing aspect of the ancient Mesoamericans, there are some beautiful photographs of designs from the American Museum of Natural History in Stacy B. Schaefer’s Huichol Woven Designs: Documenting the Encoded Language of an Ancient Mesoamerican Artform (FAMSI ©2002) available online at: Schaefer wrote in the Introduction that the “Huichol Indians, more so than most other indigenous groups in Mesoamerica, have maintained beliefs, customs and traditions with antecedents dating back to Precolumbian times.”
According to Bunsons’ Encyclopedia of Ancient Mesoamerica (1996), the making of textiles likely began with the weaving of baskets and petites, coiled mats used anciently. However, to quote from the Athena Review Image Archive online, “Textiles from Precolumbian Maya sites are rare, with most examples coming from underwater deposits such as the Cenote of Sacrifice at Chichen Itza... (and) these cloth pieces found in a Postclassic era cave deposit in Chiapas show colors comparable to those used in wall frescoes.”
Cloth fragments from Cueva de Chiptic, Chiapas Museo National de Antropologia, Mexico City
We are indeed fortunate today that so much has been carried down to the present times by the people of Mesoamerica.          

Saturday, December 5, 2015

ANNOUNCING! - the new video trailer for this exciting adventure novel, now on YouTube:

Thanks go out to Anika Ferguson, Morris Grover, Abigail Misalucha, and others for assisting in the production of this video! This would make a great Christmas gift for LDS readers interested in Book of Mormon fiction and archaeology/anthropology.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


BEHEADING (DECAPITATION) TRADITIONS IN THE SCRIPTURES AND IN POST-BOOK OF MORMON ANCIENT AMERICAN CULTURES By Mark F. Cheney ©2015 Although this essay may seem like a gruesome undertaking, beheadings are well known in the scriptures and in the ancient world. Perhaps the most famous beheading in the Christian world is that of David’s act after slaying the giant, Goliath (1 Samuel 17), and it should be noted that he performed the deed with the victim’s own sword which may be noteworthy as a possible part of some tradition in itself. Some Old Testament references to decapitations follow: Judges 7:25 And they took two princes of the Midianites, Oreb and Zeeb ... and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon.... 1 Samuel 17:57 And as David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, ... [he] brought ... the head of the Philistine in his hand. 1 Samuel 31:9 They cut off his head and stripped off his weapons, and sent them throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people. 2 Samuel 4:7-8 And they smote him, and slew him, and beheaded him, and took his head ... brought the head of Ishbosheth unto David.... 2 Samuel 16:9 Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, "Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over now and cut off his head." 2 Samuel 20:22 And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and cast it out to Joab. 2 Kings 10:7-8 [T]hey took the king's sons, and slew seventy persons, and put their heads in baskets, and sent him them to Jezreel. And there came a messenger, and told him, saying, They have brought the heads of the king's sons. And he said, Lay ye them in two heaps at the entering in of the gate until the morning. Judith 13:2-11 They were all overcharged with wine ... But Holofernes lay on his bed, fast asleep, being exceedingly drunk. ... Judith stood before the bed praying ... Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel ... that I may bring to pass ... that it might be done by thee ... When she had said this, she ... loosed his sword ... And ... she took him by the hair of his head, and said: Strengthen me, O Lord ... And she struck twice upon his neck, and cut off his head ... And after a while she went out, and delivered the head of Holofernes to her maid, and bade her put it into her wallet. And some New Testament references to beheadings, notably, John the Baptist’s: Matthew 14:10 And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. Mark 6:16 But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead. Mark 6:27 And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, Luke 9:9 And Herod said, John have I beheaded: but who is this, of whom I hear such things? And he desired to see him. Revelation 20:4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
In the Book of Mormon the best known decapitation occurred in the story of Nephi and Laban, where Nephi found Laban passed out in the street in a drunken condition. He reluctantly, given his youth and pure nature, followed the Lord’s instruction to “slay him” by taking “Laban by the hair of the head, and … smote off his head with his own sword.” (1 Nephi 4:8-18) In Hamblin and Merrill’s “Swords in the Book of Mormon”, Chapter 15 of WARFARE IN THE BOOK OF MORMON, they state “Nephi’s method of beheading Laban by grasping his hair to pull up the head and expose the neck is a common technique (see fig. 2).” Figure 2 is reproduced here in my sketch and is a line drawing of “Rameses III grasping the hair of his enemies as he beheads them, from a relief at Medinet Habu, XXth Dynasty (1192-1160 B.C.)” (pp. 335-336, Warfare in the Book of Mormon, Ricks and Hamblin, Ed., 1990.) Another more obscure instance of beheading anciently in Mesopotamia is found on page 39 in the same book.
Ramses III beheading his victims - The next most notable instance in the Book of Mormon of a beheading is that of King Coriantumr killing and taking the head of Shiz in the final battle of the Jaredites: “And it came to pass that when Coriantumr had leaned upon his sword, that he rested a little, he smote of the head of Shiz.” It goes on further to add “And it came to pass that after he had smitten off the head of Shiz, that Shiz raised up on his hands and fell; and after that he had struggled for breath, he died.” (Ether 15:30-31) Some writers believe that Stela No. 21 at the ancient site of Izapa, Mexico, represents this beheading of Shiz in the Book of Mormon. You can see below that the victim, whose blood is pumping from his neck, is raising himself up on at least one hand. When I first saw Stela 21, I was reminded of Laban’s beheading by Nephi.
Stela 21, Izapa, Mexico - The Rogan Plates are a collection of Mississippian copper plates found in Mound C of the Etowah Indian Mounds near Cartersville, Georgia by John P. Rogan, working under Cyrus Thomas of the Smithsonian Institution in the early 1880’s, which also bear some remarkable similarities to Maya sculpture found in the Yucatan Peninsula. Both of these plates depict what has been called the “Falcon Dancer” or “Birdman”.
Repousséd Etowah copper plates found in Mound C near Cartersville, Georgia (Rogan Plates 1 on the left and 2 on the right). Looking at Rogan Plate 1 we see a number of interesting motifs similar to those found in Mesoamerican and Aztec art. First the falcon or eagle image is common – not too surprising or very significant in and of itself, but then there is the interesting downward pointed satchel or apron in the center of the plate, a sword or weapon in the right hand and the head of a supposed enemy in the left hand . Another plate with both some definite connections to the Rogan Plates is the Copper Solar Ogee Deity plate found at Lake Jackson Mound Site, Florida. This plate has the same weapon raised in one hand and the severed head in the other.
Solar Ogee Deity plate – Lake Jackson Mound, Florida Now looking at two wall carvings from Chichen Itza, let’s examine some of the similarities between them and the Rogan Plate. The so-called “Winged Warrior” wall carving in Chichen Itza has a number of comparables: first, the name itself indicates a bird motif similar to the “Dancing Falcon”, second, the warrior holds a weapon in his right hand and a severed head in his left. Flying serpents are also part of the decoration.
“Winged Warrior” - Chichen Itza To continue the comparisons with wall carvings in Chichen Itza, we can look at the Quetzalcoatl or Feathered Serpent Warrior. Here the warrior again carries a weapon in his right hand that appears to be a serpent-shaped club or macana, and the now-familiar severed head, with gushing blood, in his left hand. These are interesting similarities to the North American examples, to be sure, but the beheading appears to be ubiquitous throughout ancient cultures.
Feathered Serpent Warrior - Chichen Itza This essay shows common traditions of the Old World and the New World and may not really prove anything, however, neither does it leave the question unanswered as to whether traditions in the Book of Mormon are closely comparable to those in the Near East, the given land of both Jared and Nephi’s fathers.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Just reduced the price of my eBook by 50% - was $3.99 and is now $1.99 at - Mark of the Jaguar, a Book of Mormon Adventure in the Land of the Maya. See for further info on this Whitney Award nominee! It will take a few weeks for it to be available at this price on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble sites, but has it in all eBook formats.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Marianne Leininger was kind enough to do an author's interview with me on her blog, I thought she might edit my comments, but pretty well put it all in there! Hope you all enjoy it! Go to

Monday, October 27, 2014

Maya Collection and Travels in Mayaland

Maya Collection and Travels in Mayaland
My friend, Jody Livingston, has a great Book of Mormon blog called "IN THE CAVITY OF A ROCK" at I recommend that you check it out and follow it. He's a great young man involved in The Book of Mormon Forum (BMAF) and he has posted some really interesting information.
Jody - Here's another pic for this blog.