Offering Box in the Form of a Throne, Maya, Highland Guatemala, Classic Period, 800–1000 CE
Polychromed ceramic, overall: 19-1/8 x 18-1/2 x 6 inches (48.51 x 46.99 x 15.24 cm)
Jay I. Kislak Collection of the Early Americas, Exploration and Navigation, Miami Dade College, MDC PC 2018a (box), b (cover)
A bearded lord presides atop this ceramic offering or cache box. His breastplate, earspools, and turban signify royal status, a fact we know from the appearance of similar garb in other Maya ceramics, stelae, and temple reliefs. The figure sits on a jaguar pelt thrown over the box’s lid—its rear paws hanging over the front edge and its head and front paws over the back edge—which further illustrates his role as a ruler, dominating one of nature’s most powerful creatures.
The seated figure is flanked by serpent heads, from the open mouths of which emerge the heads of two gods—one portrayed as a scribe on the right side of the box and another depicted as an elderly man on the left. These may be the seated lord’s protectors and certainly further indicate his status. The scribe, who has a bundle of paper on his head, is Itzamná, also known as Ah Dzib ("scribe") or idzat ("learned person"), and, to Mayan scholars, “God D.” Closely associated with creation and sustenance, Itzamná is also identified with writing, divination, wisdom, and esoteric knowledge. Records from the Colonial period say he was the supreme ruler of the Maya gods. The Old God, Ah Puch or “God A,” is often shown with a snaggletooth or chapfallen mouth to indicate his age, but he can appear in many different guises and with different names. This Old God may be one of his disguises, representing his role as God of the Dead protecting a burial offering box.
Similar boxes have been known to contain Maya books, although this one may be too small to have held a book of significance. More likely, it held offerings such as incense, small jewelry or other sacred objects, bones of the deceased or an ancestor, or foodstuffs for the afterlife. This box would have been buried with an elite person as a hoard or "wealth deposit,” an archaeological term for a collection of valuable objects or artifacts; such deposits are found in tombs, in the ruins of temples, or purposely buried in the ground, in which case it is sometimes called a cache. There are no remnants of the offerings in this box, but its elaborate form and decoration indicates its importance.
The fact that this box is painted with a vivid hue today called “Maya Blue” provides further evidence of the elite or royal status of the object and its owner. Maya Blue was the color of royalty and, as a vibrant and nearly indestructible pigment, was most appropriate for use in burials and objects meant for the eternity of the afterlife. Read more about Maya Blue in the entry for the Maya Vessel with Diving God.
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.