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The Mayans Were Real Head Bashers

It’s a good thing for us the Mayans weren’t around to hear the disparaging comments we made in 2012 about their calendar. It turns out they had a fondness for responding to criticism by cracking heads with spiked clubs.

Researchers studying Mayan remains have found indications that the culture was particularly violent in warfare, with tactics including flaying, decapitation, heart extraction and head fractures. To learn more about the head injuries, Dr. Stanley Serafin, a bioarchaeologist from Central Queensland University, led a team studying 116 Mayan skulls recovered from 13 sites in Mexico dating from between 600 BC and 1542 AD. Their findings are published in the online and print editions of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Serafin’s team found that many of the injuries were two oval-shaped indentations next to each other, which is consistent with wounds inflicted by wooden clubs with stone spikes. They also discovered that men had more of these fractures than women and they were on the front left of their skulls, suggesting they were hit by a right-handed person on a level surface with little cover to duck behind. This contradicts previous accepted theories that the Mayans favored surprise attacks rather than face-to-face hand-to-hand – or in this case, hand-to-head – combat.

The era when the injuries were inflicted was also studied. Dr Serafin’s team found no evidence that violence contributed to the mysterious end of the Classic period from 250 AD to 900 AD. However, violence and warfare increased in the Postclassic period (900 to 1500 AD) as the Mayans suffered hard times.

While no spiked clubs have been found at Mayan archeological sites, paintings depicting warfare show them being used along with spears, atlatls (a spear-throwing device), darts, arrows, slings for hurling stones and maquahuitl – a wooden weapon edged with obsidian or flint and wielded in chopping or slicing motions like a sword.

Mayan weapons

Mayan weapons

Those Mayans sound like they would have been deadly at mixed martial arts.


Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.
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