Fluted Brownware Bowl with Spiral Designs, Maya

    200–500 CE

    Fluted Brownware Bowl with Spiral Designs, Maya, 200–500 CE
    Burnished ceramic, 4 ¾ x 6 ½ x 6 ½ inches (12.1 x 16.5 x 16.5 cm)
    Jay I. Kislak Collection of the Early Americas, Exploration and Navigation, Miami Dade College, MDC PC 2018.1.4

    The elegant artistry on this thin-walled burnished bowl portrays the Maya concept of the cosmos using a spiral that depicts a "sky-serpent," probably representing the Milky Way, combined with other earthly and celestial symbols. The Maya venerated the Milky Way, calling it Wakah Chan. Wak means "six" or "erect," while chan or k'an means "four," "serpent," or "sky."

    The circumference of the bowl's rim is incised with repeating incised glyphs and scroll designs that represent sky, Earth, and serpent signs . When the bowl is inverted to display its highly decorated underside, the Milky Way may be seen to float above the symbols for the Earth and sky.

    The Maya were extraordinary astronomers, carefully observing the sky and ordering their lives around the phases of the moon and the movement of the planets. Several observatories have survived in the ruins of major Maya cities. Their incredibly accurate astronomical calculations and sophisticated mathematics were steeped in religion and omens, their priests discerning the very will of the gods behind the occurrences of natural phenomena. Thus, it is not surprising that this remarkable object would be inscribed with glyphs and symbols that relate to the Earth and the sky.

    Exhibited: Culture and Change in the Early Americas, Kislak Center, Miami Dade College, May 20, 2018–January 31, 2021.

    Photos by Lynton Gardiner. © Kislak Center at MDC.