Pre-Columbian, Mexico and northern Central America, Mayan Territories, Late Classic, ca. 550 to 900 CE. A fascinating and rare cylindrical vessel made for holding a cache, capped by a round lid with a gruesome trophy head projecting from its center. The head has huge empty eye sockets, a mouth stuffed full of something, and wears large earrings and a necklace with a pendant. The vessel stands on three low legs and its body is decorated with applied strips of pottery that give it the appearance of being wrapped in ropes on the lower body, at the rim, and just below the rim. Four loops of pottery are along the exterior rim; this, along with the applied strips that look like rope, are matched along the rim of the lid. Trophy heads were a near-universal constant in Mesoamerican imagery for millennia, although by the Classic Maya period it seems more likely that the taking of actual trophy heads had (mostly) been replaced by the ball from the ballgame (as in the Popol Vuh, where a decapitated head is used instead of a rubber ball). Size: 8.4" W x 13.25" H (21.3 cm x 33.7 cm)
Unlike many other ancient civilizations, the Maya did not have cemeteries or necropolises; instead, they buried both human remains and ritual caches of pottery filled with offerings, jade, beads, and other precious items throughout their lived-in-landscape, especially as part of their architecture. These all seem to have been "earth offerings," and may have been dedications for newly built construction, markers for the end of use of a building, or some kind of renewal ceremony relating to the broader concept of Maya cosmology: the cycle of planting, harvest, and rebirth. Caches have been found in floors, in the fill of buildings, or set into walls. Vessels with lids like this one seem to have been symbolic of houses or structures to the Maya, meaning that they served as symbolic offerings of the buildings in which they were buried, able to be filled with offerings of food or drink, sanctifying the construction. This is a particularly nice example, as many vessels seemingly made only to be cached are of thin construction, because they were never meant for heavy use.
Provenance: private California, USA collection; ex-Arte Primitivo Gallery, New York, New York, USA
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Repaired from multiple fairly large pieces. Head is in nice condition and appears to be mostly intact. Some very small areas of added pigment/clay from restoration along the break lines, notably around the lower body.