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In class I received two figurines to scan - as of yet I've only scanned one. The first of these, and the one that I have scanned, depicts what appears to be a male figure. It is relatively small, measuring under four and a half inches, and is flat-backed. The flat surface of this figurine's back suggests that it is a member of type 1 Maya figurines: press molded. The figure, clothed in a loin cloth and headdress, is depicted in low relief on the object's front side. On its lower backside protrudes a jagged circular form, which looks to be a broken connection. My theory is that the sound making component of this figurine was attached at this circular protrusion. It was this protrusion that proved most difficult to scan, along with a few recesses near the figure's right ear and armpit.

The second figurine, which I have yet to scan, is a decapitated ceramic head. Though only a fragment, this artifact is finely crafted. As it is fully round, this high craft suggests that this head belongs in the third or fourth types. Due to its sphere like shape, scanning the artifact should be relatively easy.


Maya figurine press mold, type 2, of high detail. Image from ancientpages.com

By the Late Classic Period, ancient Maya craftspeople became skilled in crafting a variety of ceramic wares. From experience, I can say that clay ocarinas are very hard to make. The Maya, however, crafted ocarinas that not only work, but are adorned with figurative sculpture. These small ceramic figurine ocarinas may have played a role in many aspects of ancient Maya culture and were distributed across vast areas, societal tiers, and cultural uses.

For the most part, figurines created in Mesoamerica are assumed to be either toys or ritual items. Investigation of rapidly abandons sites, such as Ceren in El Salvador, reveal the ocarinas stored in their original contexts; Ocarinas were found in both ritual and non-ritual rooms. They were often found stored with other musical instruments, like ceramic drums, bone rasps, and turtle carcasses, suggesting they were thought of in the same way. Among these, other soundless figurines found in each household ranged from four to thirty-seven. The figurines in each home vary in form and subject, from human males and females, to animal, grotesque, and anthropomorphic figures. This wide assortment of characters suggests that these figurines relate to each other in some narrative way. Ancient stone cities of the Maya were found left with figurine ocarinas scattered among almost every tier of the culture - all except the uppermost temples. This suggests that the ocarinas played a role in many public functions, even the royal court. Despite their wide reach in Maya culture, figurine ocarinas are not usually found in burials or dedicatory caches.

Maya figurine ocarinas were produced in four different types: press molded, hand formed, combined technique, and finely modeled. The first type, press molded, were crafted as the name suggests - by pressing clay into a mold. The hollow space required for each instrument would be formed by the addition of a clay slab attached on the back of the pressed piece, closing a small interior. For this reason, this type is flat. This use of repeated molding shows how the ancient Maya employ "mechanical reproduction", a term commonly associated with the emergence of industrial capitalism. Often in this type, while male figurines were created as ocarinas, female figurines were created as rattles. The second type were produced by hand. Rather than using a mold to get a base form, these instruments were crafted entirely freehand. These crudely modeled forms did not often employ reductive techniques, such as carving or scraping. Type 2 often has unrealistic body proportions due to these simple forming processes. The third type combines techniques used in both of the first two, molding and modeling. These were often more complex than their type 2 counterparts, and therefore required more skilled labor. They consist of molded head with modeled, hollow bodies. Type 3 depicts anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, and supernatural figures. The fourth type is characterized by is higher detail and finer modeling. They were most commonly found in elite architectural groups (an inverse of the crudely hand modeled Type 2). This type also contains non-musical examples of high crafted quality.


Halperin, Christina T. Maya Figurines: Intersections between State and Household (version Project Muse). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2014.


The central plaza of Tikal, Guatemala. chensiyuan, . "Tikal Main Plaza." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified October 05, 2014. https://www.ancient.eu/image/3100/.

The emergence and development of Maya culture took place over thousands of years, divided into specific periods. Beginning as hunters and gatherers, the ancestors of Maya peoples began to cultivate food sources, such as maize (corn) and beans. Some of the earliest settlements are dated 2000-1500 BCE. This Archaic Period, as it is commonly called, spanned from 7000-2000 BCE. Following this, the Olmec peoples, the oldest Mesoamerican culture, settled and thrived during what is now called the Pre-Classic Period, 1500-700 BCE. They build large stone cities and laid the foundation for future Mesoamerican societies. From 600 BCE-800 CE, the Zapotec culture disseminated writing, mathematics, astronomy, and the calendar during a period aptly named the Zapotec period. 250 CE marks the beginning of the Classic Period, when Maya peoples numbered in the millions and urban centers rose across Mexico and Central America. Maya civilization was at the height of its power during the Classic Period from 250 CE - 950 CE. During this time, Maya power is consolidated in great cities were they perfected mathematics, astronomy, and the calendar. For still unknown reasons, the Maya left their grand cities in a mass exodus. This denotes the start of the Post-Classic Period, when the Toltecs, a new tribe to the region, repopulated the vacant urban centers. Contrary to popular belief, the Maya peoples had already abandoned their cities before the Spanish invaded. The end of Maya culture is traditionally marked at the Battle of Utatlan in 1524, when Spanish invaders defeated the Quiche Maya.

Outside of the fetishiized popular view of the Maya, as perpetuated by the "doomsday calendar", a rich culture fills Maya civilization. Their diverse theology and philosophy regarding the cyclical nature of life and death, which is reflected in the circular calendar the Maya are widely famous for, seeped into all the aspects of their society. Even the icon pyramid like structures for which the Maya are famous, are replicas of Witzob, their mountain of gods. Just as with modern culture, sports played a strong roll in ancient Maya. Poc-a-Toc was the most popular game amoung the Maya, however they viewed it as much more. It is believed that the game was thought of as symbolic to victory over darkness and the cyclical nature of existence.

When thinking of Mesoamerican civilizations, it is hard for the ancient Maya not to come to mind - if even just for a doomsday calendar. Maya peoples are indigenous to Mexico and Central America, inhabiting areas such as Yucatan, Belize and Honduras. The power of Maya civilization survived from 2000 BCE until their defeat by Spanish conquest in 1524 CE. Their last capital, the ancient Yucatan city of Mayapan, is where the term "Maya" originated. Descendants of Maya peoples, however, still live on many of the same sites as their ancestors. Though the region was Christianized in the 16th century CE by the Spanish conquest and inquisition, many Maya descendants who live their practice a hybrid between European Catholicism and ancient Maya practices.



Mark, Joshua J. "Maya Civilization." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified July 06, 2012. https://www.ancient.eu/Maya_Civilization/.

History.com Editors. “Maya.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, October 29, 2009. https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-americas/maya.


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