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Revisiting Monkeys on Pots: A Contextual Consideration of Primate Imagery on Classic Lowland Maya Pottery

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Article of journalRice, Prudence M.; South, Katherine E. (Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Department of Anthropology, Estados Unidos). Revisiting Monkeys on Pots: A Contextual Consideration of Primate Imagery on Classic Lowland Maya PotteryAncient Mesoamerica, 2015 vol. 26 no. 2 p. 275-294. Keywords:
Central America
Pre-hispanic period


Four species of monkeys may have lived in the Maya region in pre-Columbian times: two howler monkey species, the spider monkey, and possibly the capuchin. Simians also played an important role in Maya creation myth and cosmology, and are frequently represented on Maya pottery and in glyphic texts. Scholars disagree, however, on which monkeys are depicted. Here we provide an analysis of 142 monkey images on 97 pots, focusing especially on Classic-period lowland polychromes. Multiple physical characteristics of the primates are considered, along with cultural traits, to provide appropriate biological and cultural contexts and artistic conventions necessary to their interpretation. Besides the well-known scribal roles (attributed to howlers and “Monkey-Men”), we conclude that monkeys commonly take on pictorial and non-pictorial roles that involve carrying or bringing goods such as tribute or cacao. In contexts of liminality, these creatures are often charged with transcending natural and social realms.

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