Pre-Columbian, Maya Territories, probably El Salvador, ca. 600 to 900 CE. Finely carved from basalt, a depiction of Chac Uayab Xoc, the Maya fish god believed to serve as the protector of fish and the patron of fisherman, but simultaneously feared as a deity who fed off the bodies of drowning fishermen, hence also known as the "great demon shark". Chac Uayab Xoc is said to ensure that the fishermen have good catches. Here he is depicted riding the crest of a wave. The overall form resembles that of a palma. Actual palmas were heavy pieces of leather worn by athletes during the Mesoamerican ballgame; stones like this one were carved to represent them in sculptural form. Stone palmas may have been given as awards or displayed in temples; the relationship between the ballgame and religion remains unclear, but there certainly seems to be a connection. The Chac Uayab Xoc theme relates to concepts of sacrifice, death, and rebirth, the struggles of the ballgame. Size: 8.5" W x 11" H (21.6 cm x 27.9 cm)
According to Jennifer Ruth John's dissertation "Postclassic Maya Ceramic iconography at Lamanai, Belize, Central America" (University College London, - "Fish often feature in transformation myths (Tedlock 1996:132) and might thus have been considered able to cross boundaries between this world and the otherworld. The shark(xoc) is a voracious, cartilaginous fish occurring in both marine and freshwater (Jones 1985: 217-218). The bull or cub shark sometimes leaves the sea and travels into fresh water (Jones 1985: 217-218). This, along with LamanaiÂ’s connection to water-borne travel and transport by both land and sea, suggests that sharks were well-known to the inhabitants of Lamanai. Shark teeth were recovered from high status Lamanai burials in the Early and Late Postclassic Periods (Burials N10-4/9 and /46, respectively; see Appendices 4 and 5), further indicative of the animalÂ’s cultural importance at the site. The Maya shark (xoc) was mythologised into Ah Xoc, ah Kan Xoc, or Chac Uayab Xoc, an ominous 'were-shark' demon (Jones 1985: 217-218; see Hellmuth 1987:138-143, Figs. 269-282, 290-309). In the literature, the shark is primarily linked to bloodletting and sacrifice (Reilly 1985:130). Consequently, the shark lent the Lamanai zoomorphs strength, and both fish and shark aspects emphasise the beastÂ’s ability of transformation." (http://www.lamanai.org.uk/uploads/3/4/5/0/34505207/jennyjohnsdissertation.pdf)
Provenance: private Owen collection, New Jersey, USA; ex- estate of a wealthy land owner and rancher in the American Southwest
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