- 700–900 CE
This Late Classic vessel comes from the Maya site of Quirigua, located in the southeastern lowlands of Guatemala. The vase was excavated archaeologically in 1912 from Structure 2 (B) in the principal Temple Plaza. The structure was empty save for this vessel, which was found broken in the final room of the main corridor, along with a fragmented hematite mirror.
The modeled face is defined by a stubby nose and pronounced cheeks and brows, while the face is framed by a headband and red beard. The ribbing around the vase recalls a squash or cacao pod. An inset vessel lip suggests that it may have had a lid, perhaps to contain a cacao drink. The snub nose has prompted scholars to identify the representation as Ek Chuah (God M), the Maya god of merchants during the Postclassic period (1250-1521 CE). The Late Classic version of God M, however, remains unclear, suggesting that the vessel may depict another Maya figure. The vase may alternatively represent a bearded dwarf, signified by the unique facial features. Physical deformity is a recurring theme in Mesoamerican art, and dwarves and hunchbacks appear in Maya art throughout the Classic period. The modeled effigy vase thus remains a singular object of Maya arts, anticipating ongoing research.
Kimberly L. Jones, PhD, Label text, A. H. Meadows Galleries, 2015.
During the Late Classic Period, the site of Quirigua traded actively with the Maya lowlands, benefitting from control of the Motagua River—likely trading in obsidian and cacao. Located on the periphery of the southeastern Maya lowlands, Quirigua also bore similarity with architecture and sculpture on the nearby highland site of Copan. Under the reign of Quirigua ruler K’ak’ Tiwil Chan Yo’pat (Fire-Burning Celestial Lightning God), the main acropolis was refurbished and Structure 2 (B) was constructed around 720-740 CE. The most ornate structure in the Temple Plaza, Structure 2 was 13.5 by 8.2 meters and 5 meters high, and it remained open throughout the plaza use and expansion. In 1912, the structure was found empty save for the effigy vase broken in the final back room of the main corridor, along with fragments of a hematite mirror. The vase may have been deposited any time in the Temple Plaza use of the Late Classic period (700-900 CE).
This Maya effigy vase has been published with clear photographs on numerous occasions since its excavation, beginning in 1913 through as recently as 1988 (also 1916, 1935, 1943, and 1980). In 1935, Sylvanus Morley reported on the 1912 expedition and summarized the effigy vase discovery by archaeologist Earl H. Morris: “Morris had better luck in the dark chamber at the eastern end of Structure 2, where in a dark interior corner he found at the floor-level a magnificent polychrome effigy vase, which looks not unlike an old English Toby Jar. Although this was broken into 23 pieces, all were found with the exception of one small fragment, and a perfect job of repair was therefore possible… The grotesque human head on the front is a remarkable example of free modeling... This effigy vase is one of the finest pieces of Maya pottery ever found, and illustrates the high technical perfection of the ceramic art at Quirigua.” Expanded research in the southeast Maya region will only continue to augment the importance of this historically excavated and impressively rare Maya effigy vase.