Tag Archives: Cahokia

Sun Worship and Sacrifices

Lately as I work on the sketches for BURIED I’m struck by the sheer volume of sun-worship and sacrifice across cultures. Growing up going to Sunday school gave me a disconcerting familiarity to Judeo-Christian sacrifice—of course lambs and first born sons should be slaughtered on altars to appease [the sun] god!—but somehow it’s never really sunk in that this tradition is true for every other religion. Building by building, city by city, the Maya, Inca, Aztec and Mississippi peoples all oriented their architecture towards celestial events as places of sacrifice. The sun rises behind this temple, venus rises in front of that one, and in the case of the Mayan Kukulcan Temple in Chichen Itza, a hand clap directed towards the stairs will echo back as the call of the quetzal bird, the embodiment of Kukulcan himself:

For as long as there has been religion priests have used these kinds of special effects and hocus pocus to validate their tribute demands from their people. This application of astronomy and architecture doesn’t prove or disprove anything about the existence of god, of course, but what amazes me is just how similar the ideas are across all cultures around the world. Wrong or right, religion of any kind does make us feel part of a bigger picture, and if we link ourselves to things beyond our control then we have relief from and less responsibility for our own destiny. I know nothing has really changed—the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. lines up with the sunrise, too (implying a great deal about the religion of capitalism, no?)—but it seems like maybe once upon a time someone out there would have had different ideas.

Or maybe they just had that guy killed?

Study for the Mayan game of Pok-ta-Pok which celebrated the celestial movements of the gods and ended with sacrificing either the winner or the loser.

 

Study for the Aztec New Fire Ceremony wherein priests kindle a fire in the chest of a sacrificial victim and passed torch by torch to every household in the city.

 

On a completely different note, a little update on SHARK: I’ve finally purchased plane tickets to fly out and do some first-hand research this fall! Thanks to the enthusiasm and generosity of several scientists and Farallon experts in the Bay Area, I will be spending several days on the water in early October to witness great white shark tagging and get a water tour around the islands. My foul-weather gear is ready, and Dramamine is at the top of my packing list; fingers-crossed that the sharks put in an appearance while I’m there!

Mesoamerican Research!

This week I’ve been stalking the shelves of the New York Public Library for visual resources to start on roughs for BURIED BENEATH US. Yay! So far the most useful finds have been the Discovery School Social Studies DVDs, which are sort of a mediocre version of something you might see on the History Channel. The stiff acting, repeated footage, and discussion questions are bringing me back to 7th grade, but aside from some inner groaning they’ve been ever so helpful in giving me context for the four cultures the book will cover (Cahokia, Aztec, Maya, & Inca). This week I’ve also been scouting neighborhoods in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens for our new apartment. Feel free to send good apartment vibes and leads our way for a June 1st move!

Huzzah! Macmillan Book Number Two!

There are so many things I love to draw: Nature. People. Architecture. Ancient civilizations. Llamas.

Did she say llamas??

YES!

With cheers of excitement and at least one bottle of wine, I am delighted to announce my SECOND book deal with Macmillan as the illustrator of BURIED BENEATH US by author/wicked-smart professor/Danny DeVito look-alike Anthony Aveni! From where cities come from and how cities grow, to daily life and the function of religion, this terrific and compelling non-fiction picture book focuses on life in four ancient American cities: the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, the Incan city of Cuzco, the Mayan city of Copan, and the mound city of Cahokia on the Mississippi.

The book will about 96 pages long and filled with dozens of my black-and-white illustrations, which will both help explain the information and reach a wider audience. The final art is due September 1st, and will be published with Roaring Brook sometime in 2013. A huge thanks and shout out to Deirdre Langeland, my soon-to-be editor for this fabulous book! Huzzah, let’s do it! Ready or not, llamas, here I come!

Over the spring and coming summer I will be up to my ears in research and graphite, which is the BEST kind of way to spend any season. In anticipation of this book I’ve already paid a brief visit to both the Met and the Museum of Natural History here in New York City to do a little preliminary visual research and refamiliarize myself with ancient American art. How I love the simple elegance and design of Incan fabrics, Aztec sculptures, and Mayan vases! Here’s a glimpse of some quick doodles from one of my (oh-so) high-tech sketchbooks. More drawing are sure to come this way soon:

In the meantime I have ONE MORE AWESOME BOOK that I’m already waist deep in the midst of illustrating. That triumphant announcement will be made this Friday; stay tuned for more news from my studio and mountains of roughs, sketches, and process work to come. Whew, what a busy year I have ahead of me!