8459 - Ceramic Maya Women in Classic Period Royal Mortuary Ritual: An Examination of the El Perú-Waka' Figurine Scene

Recently, an elaborate narrative scene comprised of 23 ceramic figurines was discovered in the tomb chamber of a Classic period ruler of El Perú-Waka’, Petén, Guatemala. There are only a handful of figurine scenes from archaeologically secure contexts across Mesoamerica, and they are geographically and temporally distinct. This assemblage is important because it represents the first scientifically-excavated in situ figurine scene from the Maya Classic period. Those who interred the Waka’ ruler in Burial 39 selected and arranged the figurines, thereby portraying an example of Maya royal ritual encapsulating the passage from one world to the next after death. The figurines depict the resurrection of a portly Maya king dressed as the Maize God accompanied by a spirit companion deer. The men and women of the court wear finely detailed garb and carry accoutrements identifying them as dancers, scribes, and a living king and queen. This human congregation surrounds a small gathering of figures with supernatural characteristics: a shaman, toad, hunchback scribe and several dwarves. With the goal of furthering our understanding of this complex assemblage, this presentation concentrates on the females which comprise more than half of the scene’s figurines. Their activities within in the ceremony will be examined in order to evaluate the participatory role of women of the royal court within ancient Maya mortuary ritual. Furthermore, issues of sexual duality seen in the assemblage will also be considered, focusing particularly on the shaman and the deceased king himself. The ongoing analysis of this intricate tableau from a variety of perspectives will augment our understanding of Classic period royal courts, gender roles, ancient ritual activity and notions of the afterlife in elite Maya society.

Keywords: Ritual, Iconography, Gender, Maya

Author: Rich, Michelle (Southern Methodist University, Ud States of Am / USA)


University of Vienna | Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring 1 | 1010 Vienna | T +43 1 4277 17575