The Mayan tattoo artist’s were very skillful in tribal tattoo art. The importance of the aesthetic element in Maya art can hardly be overestimated. It is doubtful if any people at a corresponding stage of cultural evolution was more highly gifted with artistic genius and appreciation and gave more attention to its application to all forms of art than the Mayan race.
Broadly speaking, the Maya were a lowland people, inhabiting the Atlantic coast plains of southern Mexico and northern Central America. The southern part of this region is abundantly watered by a network of streams, many of which have their rise in the Cordillera, while the northern part, comprising the peninsula of Yucatan, is entirely lacking in water courses and, were it not for natural wells (cenotes) here and there, would be uninhabitable. This condition in the north is due to the geologic formation of the peninsula, a vast plain under-laid by limestone through which water quickly percolates to subterranean channels.
The ancient Maya emerged from barbarism probably during the first or second century of the Christian Era; at least their earliest dated monument can not be ascribed with safety to a more remote period.1 How long a time had been required for the development of their complex calendar and hieroglyphic system to the point of graphic record, it is impossible to say, and any estimate can be only conjectural. It is certain, however, that a long interval must have elapsed from the first crude and unrelated scratches of savagery to the elaborate and involved hieroglyphs found on the earliest monuments, which represent not only the work of highly skilled sculptors, but also the thought of intensively developed minds. That this period was measured by centuries rather than by decades seems probable; the achievement was far too great to have been performed in a single generation or even in five or ten.
The Maya of that day were a tall race, active and strong. In childhood the forehead was artificially flattened and the ears and nose were pierced for the insertion of earrings and nose-ornaments, of which the people were very fond. Squint-eye was considered a mark of beauty, and mothers strove to disfigure their children in this way by suspending pellets of wax between their eyes in order to make them squint, thus securing the desired effect. The faces of the younger boys were scalded by the application of hot cloths, to prevent the growth of the beard, which was not popular. Both men and women wore their hair long. The former had a large spot burned on the back of the head, where the hair always remained short. With the exception of a small queue, which hung down behind, the hair was gathered around the head in a braid. The women wore a more beautiful coiffure divided into two braids. The faces of both sexes were much disfigured as a result of their religious beliefs, which led to the practice of scarification. Tattooing also was common to both sexes, and there were persons in almost every community who were especially proficient in this art. Both men and women painted themselves red, the former decorating their entire bodies, and the latter all except their faces, which modesty decreed should be left unpainted. The women also anointed themselves very freely with fragrant gums and perfumes. They filed their teeth to sharp points, a practice which was thought to enhance their beauty.
With some, the more they were tattooed the more valiant and brave they were considered, because the operation of tattooing was very painful, and was done in this manner: The officials worked the parts they desired with ink (tinfa), and then incised gently the drawings, so that the devices remained in the body with the blood and ink. They tattoo only a little at a time, because the pain is great. They also become ill, for there is inflammation, and matter gathers in the tattooing. In spite of all this, they scoff at those who do not have themselves tattooed.
Some of the tattoo-patterns appear to be purely decorative, conforming to the facial modeling; others have a definite significance as fetishes or as totems. It is therefore evident that tribal tattoo art was of great importance to the Mayan culture.
But what of the alleged 2012 Mayan prophecy? Do the terminal dates refer to events or incidents? Does the end of the Mayan calendar represent the end of the world on December 21, 2012? Many questions remain of the 2012 prediction.