The 360-degree panorama on the surface of this ceramic vase from Guatemala looks like a comic strip. The lively scene depicts a wild battle. Twelve expressively fashioned figures move in all directions, thrusting their ornate spears at each other. The cinematic-like depiction and the unique artistic quality give us an insight into the fascinating cultural history of the Maya.
The historical event it refers to remains unclear. As the find spot is also unknown, a precise attribution is not possible. However, the figures’ clothing and body jewellery tell us that these are important men whose fates we are witnessing. The figures have individualized faces, carry trophy heads and are wearing opulent feather ornamentation. The names in hieroglyphs on the red background also indicate that historical figures are doing battle here.
The outcome of this conflict is also depicted. For a warrior in black clothes fortunes have changed: once victorious – as indicated by the trophies from previous battles that he still carries on his belt – his opponent has now grabbed him by the hair. For the Maya this was a clear sign of capture and thus indicated the outcome of the battle. In Mayan culture a warrior’s prestige increased with the number of captives he took, who could then be sacrificed during rituals, for example.
The band of hieroglyphs running around the circumference of the vase contains a dedication, which amongst other things testifies to its function as a container for cacao. The Maya believed cacao to be the blood of the corn god, and was consequently only served to the most powerful as a divine elixir. Vessels such as this were expressions of power and influence, recording the narrative of a victorious ruler for posterity. The detailed information and the unique artistic quality give us an insight into the fascinating cultural history of the Maya.
The Mayan vase from the Guatemalan Late Classic Period originates from between CE 700 and 900. The Ethnologisches Museum acquired it on the art market in 1999. In future it will be exhibited on the second floor of the Humboldt Forum.
To be seen in the museums on the second floor of the Humboldt Forum.
International experts, eye witnesses and representatives from the Humboldt Forum adressed questions in various conversations. They weaved exciting stories and histories from different cultures and epochs, current research results and personal experiences to create surprising and sometimes astounding narratives.
Experienced — Recounted — Claimed
February 18, 2019
Commemorating “100 Years of Revolution – Berlin 1918/19”.
Until May 2019, the first Humboldt Forum Highlights were on display in the Pergamonmuseum, Altes Museum and Neues Museum on Museum Island.
The first 15 of these Humboldt Forum Highlights were being presented between October 2018 and May 2019 in two formats: in an exhibition as well as during conversations that will be held at various locations in Berlin.