What Each Color Represented In The Ancient Maya Civilization

In ancient times, colors had a special meaning for the Maya culture.

In the Maya civilization, art was colorful and lively. For this reason, they worked with a wide variety of hues highlighting the use of primary colors. These were combined to create new ones to use for their paintings, attires, decorative ornaments, among other objects. If there is something that defines Maya colors, it is their great intensity.

The Maya and the colors

Nowadays, most Maya temples are presented before us with the gray color of the rocks that compose them. The colors are not well reflected due to the passage of time, humidity, etc. But it is known that, back then, all these edifications were full of bright colors. Red was their favorite for temples and pyramids, but they also used green, yellow, white, and even black, which served to frame their figures.


The dyes used by the Maya were of mineral and plant-based origin. They were used in paintings with certain chromatic symbolism. The colors are a reflection of the lost world inhabited by the Maya culture.

Dean Arnold, professor of Anthropology at Wheaton College and curator of the Field Museum in Chicago, discovered in 2010 the technique used by the Maya to achieve the famous bright blue, which was made using indigo and palygorskite (a type of clay). Arnold has shown that the palygorskite comes from mines located in two places in the north of the Yucatán peninsula: Ticul and Salacuim. And that, currently, the modern Maya continue to use to make their dyes.


Meaning of Maya colors

  • Black: The color of bad omens, of the unknown. It is often compared with black corn. Black is death; the color where our dead rest; the embodiment of bad ideas; it symbolizes rest.
  • Blue: The color blue represents two great masses on Earth: water and sky. It symbolizes the great rivers, lakes, seas, and the color of the sky.
  • Yellow: The bright color of corn. It also represents the production of excellent crops and family ties. Concerning the latter, the family, the color is said to be the Q'anil, which means that maturity is the nucleus, the seed, the wealth, but also the disease.
  • White: This color represents the dawn of every day, the color of bones, teeth, purity, and well-being. It is also "light and life-giving fluid" such as semen and breast milk.
  • Red: Red represents strength, sunlight, and the rejection of darkness, as well as blood. It portrays the sunrise, the dawn.
  • Green: Represents the color of the center; it's the color of humanity as the axis of the world; the center of the Earth as a giver of vegetables and fruits.
  • "Mexico is of very intense colors ... no matter where you look at it. It is an explosion of color that is reflected in everything that surrounds you; gastronomy, architecture, clothing, crafts, and even in its changing nature." -Dean Arnold-


    This is why the Maya colors had strong meanings for them and their lives, as sacred as their own gods. Further, recognizing the composition of these and the durability, as well as History itself.

    Translated by Gaby Flores
    Photos from Wikimedia Commons and Pixabay

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