The Natural World

Maya artists produced renderings of types of animals which were significant to the members of society as food, pets or pests. It is difficult to determine if animals depicted on ceramic vessels are parts of purely naturalistic scenes, are related to stories whose texts have not survived from the Classic period or are supernatural creatures. Some of these animals probably represent counterparts of humans, or wayob. Among the present-day Tzotzil Maya of Chiapas it is believed that every individual has an animal counterpart which must be protected from harm in order to stay alive. A person’s status in society determines the kind of wayob he or she possesses.

Tenampua class painted cylindrical vase, Late Classic Ulúa Valley

This vase was found with the jade pendant in the “Palace Life” section of the exhibit, in a tomb located in an area inhabited by the Lenca, neighbors of the Maya. The theme of blowgun hunters and cormorants is also common in Maya ceramics and demonstrates a significant amount of symbolic sharing across cultural boundaries. Cormorants were associated with the supernatural because they live in three worlds: they fly in the sky, nest on the earth and swim in the water. Although the Hero Twins were blowgun hunters, this scene probably refers to a myth other than the Popul Vuh. Pseudoglyphs encircle the rim.

HM 515

Tenampua class painted cylindrical vase, Late Classic Ulúa Valley
Carved jade ornament

In the form of an owl head.

HM4625

Carved jade ornament
Carved jade ornament

In the form of a monkey head.

HM4624

Carved jade ornament
Painted cylindrical vase, Late Classic San Augustín Acasaguastlán

Interpretation of the the vase’s symbolism is uncertain. The glyph band below the rim is probably the Primary Standard Sequence. Four human figures parade around the vase, one accompanied by an erect mammal and another accompanied by an insect. Two humans carry staffs that are similar to maize stalks, one human has a less elaborate staff and the fourth has no staff.

HM1194

Painted cylindrical vase, Late Classic San Augustín Acasaguastlán
Painted cylindrical vase, Late Classic Alta Verapaz (Cobán region)

The glyph repeated below the rim seems to be muluc day sign or a variant of “jade.” The bat is a frequent motif of pottery painters from Alta Verapaz. The profiles of bat heads on this vase may refer to supernatural Camazotz’ of the Popul Vuh or may be the emblem of a social group or ruling family.

HM1184

Painted cylindrical vase, Late Classic Alta Verapaz (Cobán region)
Painted modeled incense burner, Late Classic Alta Verapaz

The fusion of human and bird characteristics may represent the relationship between an individual and his way, or animal counterpart.

HM1171

Painted modeled incense burner, Late Classic Alta Verapaz
Painted and incised ceramic rattle, South coast of Guatemala

The bat form of the rattle may refer to the Camazotz’, a supernatural killer bat of the Underworld. In the Popul Vuh, this bat bites off the head of the Hero Twin Hunahpú.

HM1176

Painted and incised ceramic rattle, South coast of Guatemala
Painted, incised and modeled cylindrical vase, Late Classic Panchoy Valley

The vase is decorated with five incised monkeys. Each is making a different hand gesture and one is holding an object. Below the monkeys are incised chevrons, possibly evidence of a connection to the Chamá area.

HM1174

Painted, incised and modeled cylindrical vase, Late Classic Panchoy Valley
Painted incised bowl, Late Classic Quiché

In creation mythology, the gods became angry with the results of their attempt to create humans from wood. The people refused to obey and behaved badly, so the gods turned them into monkeys, doomed to chatter and swing in the trees. The vase is decorated with five incised monkeys, each holding a bird and leaf.

HM1200

Painted incised bowl, Late Classic Quiché