A lot of Mayan art that inspires tattoo designs traces back to the period between the years 200 and 900. These are largely based on sculptures that were found on the exteriors of buildings as well as hieroglyphics and wall paintings that graced the interiors. Many depict totem animals such as jaguars, eagles and snakes, all of which are ideal for tattoo work.
You can’t go wrong with any of these as jaguars symbolize stealth, agility and strength while eagles speak of power, ferocity and foresight.
Lovers of Mayan culture appreciate the snake and serpent’s symbolism of spirituality and the sky. It’s no wonder that Mayan tattoo art often depicts these reptiles with wings. If you’re interested in tattoos that feature ancient hieroglyphics of this ancient empire, keep in mind that they’re still being deciphered.
You don’t need to have ancestors from northern Central America or southern Mexico to enjoy Mayan tattoos, although these designs make great tributes to an ancient heritage. Even if you have no genetic ties to the culture, this particular body art pays great homage to a deeply spiritual society.
Since some of the Mayan symbols have details that won’t translate well into tattoos, work with an experienced artist who can adjust a design to your liking.
1. Mayan Tattoos: People and Faces
The Mayan culture is considered to be one of the first cultures that were historically recorded on earth. Their people were highly spiritual, so it would make sense for a person who considers themselves to be highly spiritual to feel a connection to their teachings and symbols. Stone carvings marked their appearance, a style that continues to thrive within their Mayan descendants.
Many of the pieces in this section rely on the facial expression of the Mayan peoples, with some relying on the precision of photorealism, while others replicate the animated features of the stone carvings. These stunningly detailed pieces reveal stylish headdresses and the jewellery adorned by the Mayan peoples, often with expressions of pride and individuality. Some of the faces are slightly distorted, leading to a more surrealist approach to the narrative and imagery.
Some pieces showcase various topical narratives and apply classic Mayan symbols and shapes indicative of traditional carvings, where others simply required a portrait of an imagined warrior, carrying them through the day-to-day strife of life.
2. Mayan Skull Tattoos
Skulls and the Mayan culture have a distinct fusion between one another. It is known that defleshed and painted human skulls were worn around the neck as pendants by victorious soldiers, who were then buried with them once they passed away. The Mayans were also known to have intentionally stretched out their own skulls beginning in childhood due to its religious importance and as a signifier of beauty. Archaeologists also discovered that Mayans once used skulls as holders for incense on their ancient alter.
With this history in mind, getting a Mayan tattoo and blending it with the image of the skull seems like a no-brainer—pun intended. Not only do these pieces recognize a historical relevance within the culture, but they also may express the Mayan notion of respect for death and the afterlife. The styles that mesh the image of a skull with various Mayan symbols is generally that of a Gothic nature; applying heavy black shading and a look that foreboding.
3. Mayan Pyramid Tattoos
There exists a number of Mayan pyramids that continue to stand tall to this day within southern Mexico and Central America. These impressive and ancient relics are popular tourist areas for the history nerd and apparently are fairly favoured amongst the tattoo community. The Maya pyramids existed for both practical and religious reasons; to act as a housing for burials, to observe the forest from a vantage point over the ground, and as a shine for a particular deity.
People who get a tattoo in homage to the Mayan culture tend to blend several elements into one piece, which generally include the Mayan pyramid because of how structurally sound and beautiful it is. Some individuals though just solely the image of the pyramid done, which could have a religious connotation or simple respect and admiration for the incredible constructional feat. Some of these images are simple, while others apply the intense detail that has been discovered on a number of ancient Mayan ruins.
4. Mayan Symbols/Calendar Tattoos
One of the most famous images associated with the Mayan culture is that of the Maya calendar. This stone carving is actually a system of calendars used by multiple Mesoamerican cultures, incorporating a series of symbols and astrological concepts relating to the concepts of the moon and the presence of night.
Getting the entire calendar tattooed on your body requires dedication for a number of reasons. First of all, the calendar contains an incredible amount of detail, and cannot be squished into a small space or you risk fading and a simply unattractive tattoo. Secondly, because of the detail, it cannot be small. You are going to commit a fair amount of real estate on your skin for this piece.
There are several pieces in this section who committed entirely to a respectful depiction of the piece, while others appear to already be fading. These individuals all clearly have an interest in one of the first and most complex early-civilizations or are going for something aesthetically intricate.
5. Mayan Animal Imagery
There are specific animals that act as potent symbols for the Mayan peoples. The most popular ones that people transfer into tattoo work relate to the jaguar, the black howler monkey, the rattlesnake, armadillos, bats, deer, rabbit, owls, ducks, and falcons. All represent some aspect of the Mayan culture and probably mean a great deal to the individuals getting them tattooed on their skin.
The Mayans often included animals on their totem poles, which clearly a play on image for the piece that appears to include a brilliantly coloured parrot. It is likely that some parrots may have existed during the time of the Mayans, but they didn’t particularly worship them. Another piece is flat like a detailed wood or stone-carving, a Mayan individual pulling down the moon with a rabbit observing. Rabbits were directly related to the moon, as well as writing and the use of the arts. A great swooping owl appears on a giant back-piece, placed between skulls and probably signifying death and other underworld concepts.
Mayan Tattoo FAQs
What do Mayan tattoos symbolize?
There are a number of symbols (or glyphs) from the Mayan culture that an individual might feel compelled to get tattooed. All of these images are going to have their own meaning in relation to the Mayan culture, and in relation to the person getting the piece done.
For example, a bat symbolizes the guardian of the Mayan underworld, and where the snake/serpent symbolizes agility and mystery. A jaguar represents the relationship between humans and the earth, and the eagle was believed to have paved the way for high existence within the Mayan culture. One of the most popular Mayan tattoos is the Mayan calendar which often act as an intricate homage to the pre-historic culture.