Every fall we attend the Maya at the Playa conference in Florida and hear leading Maya archaeologists share their latest discoveries. Here are some fun things we learned this year:

Eye Deer

Distended Eye Deer

1. Nightmare beasts from the underworld: Maya art occasionally features strange mutant animals: monkeys with antlers, fire-eating peccaries, skeleton centipedes, tapirs with burning tails, deer with distended eyeballs, evil jaguars on sticks. These nightmare beasts are thought to be spirit monsters (called “way”) from the underworld. Maya rulers would send them to attack their enemies – like a curse. The spirit monsters give their victims deadly diseases and the description of the disease is much the same as the spirit monster that causes it. So just imagine what you’d be feeling if you were attacked by the burning-tail tapir…

2. Casper, Homer and the Headless Cat:Caper homer catWhen archaeologists discover a glyph that hasn’t yet been deciphered, they often give it a nickname based on what they think it looks like. It makes the glyphs easier to remember and talk about.  “Casper” (the glyph on the left) is the nickname they gave to the name glyph of the first king of Palenque because it looks like a ghost. “Headless Cat” is what they call the glyph on the right. I would love to tell you that the glyph in the middle is called “Homer Simpson” – just look at those lips – but they’ve now figured out that it’s the name of a queen called Lady Wind God Star. In case you’re wondering, those big lips are what the wind god uses to make the wind blow.

Kerr 1181 Toad close3. Toads are made of jade: In Maya art, toads are often drawn with glyphs on their backs that translate as something like “shiny jade guy”. That’s not just because toads are often green. It’s also because, in the dry season, toads go into a kind of hibernation. They burrow into the ground and go still and hard. Traditional lore is that they turn to stone – and as a green stone they are associated with jade. They come back to life when the rains come.

Kan Kingdom Emblem Glyph

Kan (Snake Kingdom) emblem glyph

4. 1300 year old snakes: The royal family of the Maya Snake Kingdom (Kan) was one of history’s longest lasting dynasties. They held power for 49 generations – a staggering 1300 years! They survived the collapse of their first great capital city El Mirador, overcame countless wars, built the massive imperial city of Calakmul and created one of the Maya world’s biggest empires. Their eventual defeat by Tikal was the beginning of the Maya’s eventual collapse.


A rabbit with waterlily ears

Rabbit with waterlily ears

5. Rabbits can swim on the moon: As you might have read in Middleworld, where we see a man in the moon, the ancient Maya saw a rabbit. And since, in the tropics, the moon looks more like a bowl than a crescent or half moon, the Maya thought of it as a vessel that filled and emptied with water as it waxed and waned. So if the moon rabbit was not going to drown in all that water, they figured it would have to be semi-aquatic. And that’s why ancient Maya drawings of rabbits often have the glyph for waterlily on their ears.

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If you’ve sneaked a peek at the cover reveal for Jaguar Stones Book Four: The Lost City, you’ll already have heard the exciting news that our publishers Egmont are redesigning all the covers in the series. (If you missed that post you can find it here.)

Jag stone logoMiddleworld was the first of the books to get a cover redesign and the new-look paperback is out now. Do you like it? Watch out for the other new covers over the coming months – and let us know what you think!

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Maya Warrior - magnetTo celebrate the Maya-themed Archaeology Fair this weekend and the opening of the wonderful MAYA: HIDDEN WORLDS REVEALED exhibit, we have a little bag of goodies to give away from the Museum Of Science in Boston.

First name out of the hat will receive two MOS postcards, a handful of temporary Maya tattoos, and a Maya warrior magnet. To enter the giveaway, just email with your name and address, subject line: Goodie Bag.

If you’re in Boston this weekend, please come and see us on Friday 10/17 (Schools Day) or Saturday 10/18 (Family Day.) We’ll be making Maya birthday buttons and demonstrating Maya math at the Fair, as well as presenting in the Theater both days and signing Jaguar Stones books. Please see the museum website for the full schedule of activities. Link

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Monster Mouth facade of temple at Lagunita

Monster Mouth facade of a temple at the recently discovered city of Lagunita

One of the most exciting things about Maya archaeology is that there are still thousands of sites waiting to be discovered in the Central American jungle – and who knows what secret stories and wonderful works of art are hidden within their walls?

This summer a team of archaeologists discovered two of these lost cities in the Calakmul Biosphere.  The biosphere is roughly 2800 square miles of thick jungle in Southern Mexico along the border of Guatemala and Belize.  It gets its name from the massive Maya city of Calakmul which was one of the superpowers of the ancient Maya world.

The newly rediscovered cities – named Tamchen and Lagunita by the archaeologists – would have been under the influence of the city of Calakmul.  Tamchen has been overgrown and lost since the Maya abandoned it a thousand years ago; Lagunita was discovered by archaeologists in the 1970s, but then its locations was lost again until now. Both cities have an impressive collection of palaces, pyramids, temples, plazas, carved monuments and ballcourts. (One of the pyramids is as tall as a 6 story building!) Another temple is entered through a large monster mouth – much like the pyramid where Max first met Lola in Middleworld.

Even more excitingly, an aerial survey indicates that there may be dozens more cities yet to be discovered in this area.

For more information click here or more photographs click here.

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Sammy TzelekWe’re always thrilled when readers send us pictures or projects inspired by the Jaguar Stones books, but we don’t usually get to watch the art being created. That all changed last weekend when we met a Jaguar Stones fan called Sammy in a restaurant in Tucson, Arizona. We chatted a little about the books, then Sammy picked up a pen and started drawing. Right in front of our eyes, he sketched Lord 6-Dog as a fierce-looking king with a magnificent Maya nose. Then quick as a flash, he added Max Murphy as a baddie-beating superhero in a Plague Rats shirt. We were blown away by Sammy’s skill and speed -not to mention his instant recall of the books! – and we begged him for the finished drawings so we could share them with you.

Thanks so much, Sammy! You’re a reading rockstar and a great artist!

Sammy Max


















If you’d like to share your Jaguar Stones artwork just e-mail it to us at

If you’d like to join the Jaguar Stones Club, just click here.

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PovegliaShhh, don’t tell the Death Lords, but Plague Island is for sale…

Remember how, in Book Three, Max meets up with a vacationing  Maya Death Lord on a creepy island near Venice? Well, that fictional location was based on the real-life island of Poveglia, where Venetian plague victims were buried in the Middle Ages. So eerie and sinister is the island that locals say: “When an evil man dies, he wakes up in Poveglia.” But soon a lot more people may be waking up there, as the Italian government are hoping to sell the island for development as a luxury hotel.

Given the disaster that was the Grand Hotel Xibalba, let’s hope the Death Lords have abandoned their foray into the hospitality business – or we think they’d be first in line to bid!

In any case, don’t think we’ll risk checking in…

You can read more about the sale here or take a tour of the island here.

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Here’s just the thing to light up the dark, damp halls of Xibalba, the Maya underworld. This chandelier is entirely made of human bones and includes at least one of every bone in the human body.

Decorating with bones was a quite a fashion in the middle ages – a style that those villainous Maya death lords could really appreciate. To see more click here – link

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