Lidded tetrapod bowl with paddler and peccaries

250–450 CE
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General Description

During the period between 250 and 550 CE, Maya potters made distinctive lidded ceramic vessels from dark clays. Handles and legs are often three-dimensional figures, and deeply incised symbols enliven a highly burnished surface. These sculptural containers are eloquent expressions of the Maya cosmos. The figure atop the lid of this vessel sits in a small canoe, a paddle in his hands and a fish on his back. The four-petaled k'in sign on his head, the symbol for day or sun, suggests that the paddler is the Maya sun god, Kinich Ahau (K'inich Ajaw) or God G. The waters that surround the paddler and his canoe are probably those of the underworld, through which the sun must travel each night before emerging again at dawn. Each of the four legs of the vessel depicts the head of the piglike peccary, shown with its blunt snout down, and with the star sign above their eyes that identifies them as the constellation Gemini. In Maya astronomy, two peccaries represent the Gemini constellation. Maya scholars Linda Schele and David Freidel have interpreted this vessel as depicting the sun god as he canoes past the peccaries in Gemini at the ecliptic, the path of the sun through the constellations.

Adapted from

  • Bonnie Pitman, ed., "Lidded tetrapod bowl with paddler and peccaries (1988.82.a-b)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 42.

  • "Lidded Bowl with Figure of Canoer (1988.82.a-b)," in Lords of creation: the origins of sacred Maya kingship, Virginia M. Fields, Dorie Reents-Budet, Ricardo Agurcia Fasquelle, et al. (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; London: Scala, 2005), 242 (cat.138).

  • Carol Robbins, Label text, A. H. Meadows Galleries, 2010.

Fun Facts

  • There are rattles in the legs of the vessel.

  • Root marks (impressions) appear on the legs, possibly from firing and the oxidation process.

  • This vessel was possibly made for a royal tomb.