Carved bone fragment

600–900 CE
more object details

General Description

This carved bone fragment is incised with an image of a serpent. Though the figure is only partially visible, it likely represents the vision serpent, with its scaly skin indicated by cross-hatched circles. A figure of central importance in Maya mythology and ritual, the vision serpent is commonly depicted with the spirit of an ancestor or deity emerging from its jaws. During bloodletting rituals, participants would induce visions to communicate with the supernatural realm, namely ancestors or gods. In Maya art, these visions are often depicted through the vision serpent, a conduit between the earthly world and the otherworld. The vision serpent is also connected to the axis mundi, the World Tree that links the celestial, terrestrial, and underworld realms. Through rituals such as bloodletting, the king could connect to the spiritual world and harness its power. Though the function of this bone fragment is unknown, sharpened bones were often used as bloodletting implements to pierce the body and collect blood, which would further connect imagery to function.

Elaine Higgins Smith, Digital Collections Content Coordinator, 2016.

Drawn from

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