What Were the Physical Features of the Mayans?

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The Mayans had various body modification practices within their culture that affected their physical features. Having an elongated forehead, modifying their teeth by filing the ends to a point or adding dental decorations and having numerous facial piercings were all highly desirable in Mayan culture.

The physical features that the Mayans preferred are evidenced in the artifact record, such as their artwork, sculptures and skeletal remains. In the artwork, Mayans are depicted in different scenes having similar physical features, giving support that these features were the ideal look for the Mayan people. Skulls recovered from Mayan burials with elongated foreheads and modified teeth give even more concrete support that these physical features were desired in Mayan culture.

Acquiring these physical features for Mayan people would have occurred at different times in their life. The process of elongating the forehead would have occurred during a person’s infancy because the cranium of an infant is still soft, so the skull can be bounded to allow it to harden and grow a certain way. Since the Mayans desired a conical shape for the skull, the mothers or midwives of infant Mayans would have bounded their babies’ skulls to create that elongated, conical shape. Dental modifications, on the other hand, would have occurred later on in a Mayan person’s life, once their adult teeth developed.