Bead: figure of acrobat or bound prisoner

600–900 CE
more object details

General Description

Jade and other greenstones were the most precious materials for the ancient Maya, equivalent to emeralds and diamonds in Western culture. Not only was jade carved into beads that functioned as both jewelry and currency, but this lustrous material was also carved into magical objects that were alive with soul-force and, thus, either useful or potentially harmful.

The carved images kings wore on their foreheads and chests projected supernatural power. This carved jadeite bead depicts a figure that may represent an acrobat or bound prisoner and would have originally been suspended from a necklace or brooch. The incised lines form the profile of the face, and the figure wears a headdress and earspools. The figure's body contorts around the base and side of the bead, against the back of the head. Captives were often bound in this same way, taken during warfare for the purpose of sacrifice or bloodletting. The facial features are common among the Maya; specifically the elongated forehead is a sign of cranial deformation in which head flattening or binding intentionally alters the shape of the skull, a form of ritual beautification common among the Maya and other Mesoamerican peoples.

Elaine Higgins Smith, Digital Collections Content Coordinator, 2016.

Drawn from

  • Carol Robbins, Label text [1968.20], A. H. Meadows Galleries, 2010.

  • Carol Robbins, Label text [1973.46], A. H. Meadows Galleries, 2010.

  • Getty Vocabulary, AAT (pendants (jewelry): AAT: 300046002).

  • Mary Ellen Miller and Megan E. O'Neil, Maya art and architecture, 2nd edition (London: Thames & Hudson, 2014): 30, 152-154, 245.