Mayas Used Spiked Clubs to Bash Combatant’s Heads

Analysis of skulls gives insight into violence in the Mayan culture

Mayan Ruins
Mayan Ruins Boris G

Looking at injuries to 116 Mayan skulls dated between 600 B.C. and 1542 A.D., researchers at Central Queensland University have gotten a pretty good picture of what kinds of injuries were common to Mayan culture. Specifically, they found that Mayans seemed to prefer fighting face-to-face in open warfare, rather than through surprise attacks, which scholars once assumed were the most popular form of warfare. 

The researchers did find that some of the female bones were more likely to have suffered damage consistant with a surprise attack or raid,  but concluded from the other wounds found on the bones that open warfare was preferred. They also found evidence that some of the weapons used in open warfare were clubs studded with some kind of stone or other point. 

From the paper, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology:

Additional evidence of warfare is provided by five healed head wounds in males that appear to have been inflicted by clubs with small, hafted points. While clear archaeological examples of such weapons have yet to be identified, “fending sticks,” which were originally interpreted as defensive weapons, are good candidates. They consist of wooden implements with a curved end from which several points project. They are commonly depicted in the Codex Borgia as well as the art of Tula and Chichen Itza being carried by warriors who also bear atlatls, darts, small shields, and occasionally, arrows, which suggests they were used in the hand-to hand combat that followed the initial volleys of projectiles

Even though no spiked clubs have been unearthed at Mayan sites, depictions on stone stele show Mayan’s carrying what appear to be spiked clubs. In addition, there is a history of wooden weapons with stone points being used in Central America. The maquahuitl was a wooden Aztec weapon that had obsidian blades embedded in the sides and was described by the Spanish conquistadores.

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