Bead: jaguar head

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 likely depicts the head of a jaguar and would have originally been suspended from a necklace, strung by the holes at the sides of the bead. The bead may be unfinished as the figure's facial features are only slightly indicated by incised lines. The features closely resemble the Maya glyph for jaguar (b'alam) and may, therefore, be a hieroglyphic reference rather than a pure visual representation of the animal.

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).