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Maya Vase: A Royal Court Volume 56 Number 2, March/April 2003

This unprovenienced vase depicts a red-painted palace court building decorated with images of supernatural beings. The hieroglyphic text serves as the building's lintels, spanning the three wide entrances. Within the building, six nobles participate in an enthronement rite. The lord sits on a throne covered with decorated cloth and a thin, plaited mat (the po'op, or mat of authority). A large pillow supports his back. The seating ritual includes a feast, indicated by the lidded cylinder vase and plate that may hold tamales. Athletic equipment--a ballgame yoke, or U-shaped hip pad, decorated with hieroglyphs, a supernatural zoomorphic headdress, and a box that may contain other gear, like knee and elbow pads--suggests a ballgame will be played.
   The kneeling attendant offering the lord a small dish may be the vase's painter; his head is framed by an artist's signature. Two aristocratic men facing the enthroned lord pay homage to the lord and converse with him. Two other members of the court talk in an adjacent room. One holds a large cylinder vase, like the one on which the painting appears, that likely contains chocolate to be consumed during the feast.

© Justin Kerr

  1. Sculpture and painted decoration on the exterior of the palace building
  2. Rim text
    • Sak Muwaan: divine ruler of the Ik' site
    • Chuy-ti Chan, u-nik': his son and vase's owner
    • its'at pits: artist, ballplayer
  3. Hieroglyphic text recording the enthronement of a lord of the Maan state and the date
  4. Signature of the artist
  5. The lord seated on his throne
  6. Food service vessels
  7. Ballgame yoke, or U-shaped hip pad, and headdress
  8. Courtiers paying homage to the enthroned lord
  9. Courtiers conversing and consuming a beverage

Hieroglyphic Inscription
The text identifies the vase as the drinking vessel of Chuy-ti Chan, who carries the titles its'at pits, "artist, ballplayer." The text ends with the name of his father, Sak Muwaan, the divine lord of the Ik' site or state, generally thought to be Motul de San José, twenty miles southwest of Tikal in the Petén lowlands of Guatemala. From other texts we know that Sak Muwaan ruled sometime between A.D. 700 and 726. We have no other record of his son Chuy-ti Chan, who did not succeed his father as the Ik' ruler. We suspect that he was not in line to inherit the throne, perhaps being a second son or otherwise not eligible as heir. Instead he was trained in noble pursuits such as artistry and ballplaying.

Chemical Data
Surprisingly, the painting style and chemical composition of the vase are not those of pottery from Motul de San José, in spite of its owner being a member of the Ik' aristocracy. Nor was the vase created at any of the sites where Ik'-made vessels have been found, such as Dos Pilas, Seibal, Altar de Sacrificios, and distant Copán, Honduras. Further, it was not made at any of the sites where Ik' royalty are known to have played important political roles, such as Yaxchilán, a large site on the Usumacinta River whose hieroglyphic inscriptions record its famous ruler Bird Jaguar IV marrying an Ik' princess around A.D. 750. Instead, the chemical data point to the little-known area around La Florida, Guatemala, which has been identified as the ancient Maan site by epigrapher Stanley Guenter. We believe that the vase was made at the request of the Maan lord to be given as a gift to Chuy-ti Chan, who attended his enthronement as the official representative of the Ik' state.

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© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America