Donated By: Donick Cary, Emmy-Award winning writer/producer (Letterman /Simpsons / Parks and Recreation /Silicon Valley)
Pre-Columbian, Guatemala, Maya Late Classic Period, ca. 550 to 900 CE. A fantastic example of a molded "poison jar" depicting a seated scribe on either side of its flattened body in an inset disc. Each decorated side is colored with red cinnabar pigment in the lower profile areas. The scribe has a speech sign emerging from his mouth, and wears a long headdress, necklace, and spooled earring. Shown in profile, the figure is expertly molded to fit within the disc border. The undecorated sides have raised ridges that lead upward to the flared spout. Scribes played a vital role in the Mayan world, and they were minor royalty, with the ability to read and write. They had the power to immortalize a king or queen through their writing, documenting battles, religious favor, and political skill. Size: 1.6" L x 2.95" W x 3.1" H (4.1 cm x 7.5 cm x 7.9 cm)
The Maya Classic phase is so named because it was the peak of their artistic and cultural achievements. Part of this, as in many societies, included highly specialized consumable goods. Elaborate vessels like this one were designed to be instantly distinguishable from those used for everyday eating or drinking - not just in decoration, but also in quantity produced, making these a much rarer find than your average piece of domestic pottery. They were also made to be for only a single, specific function - in this case, to hold something valuable. Traditionally, items like this one have been known as "poison" or "medicine" bottles, in part because of their comparison to bottles used by other native North American groups, but depictions of people using the flasks in artwork as well as residue analysis on archaeological examples suggest that they may have had other uses. They are often found in the context of burials, filled with red pigment like cinnabar or hematite, but with the remains of other things underneath the pigment (as if they were used in life and then filled with color in death). Because of their size, they must have been made to contain things not required in large quantities - indeed, poisons or medicines, but also perfume, tobacco, and ritual drugs like powdered mushrooms.
Provenance: private D. C. collection, California, USA; D. C. is an Emmy Award winning Hollywood writer and Executive Producer, collected before 2000
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