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Large Pre-Columbian Maya Incensario, Ex. Museum

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Directory: Antiques: Regional Art: Americas: Pre Columbian: Pottery: Pre AD 1000: Item # 1138002

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Large Pre-Columbian Maya Incensario, Ex. Museum
A large Pre-Columbian Maya incensario. This intriguing vessel was deaccessioned the Mint Museum in North Carolina, which holds a world class collection of Pre-Columbian art. It measures approximately 11” wide by about 7” tall, and features applied thorn-like spikes, as well as a face with open mouth on the exterior. The spikes are most likely a symbolic reference to the surface of young Ceiba trees (which have thorn-like spike protrusions on their trunks), a variety of tree with significance in Maya mythology and religion.

The applied face prominently displayed on the front of the vessel depicts an individual wearing ear ornaments and a head dressing, with an open mouth. Interestingly, the mouth on the applied face forms a small, separate open cavity. It is possible that this additional cavity may have been integrated so that a chunk of burning/smoking Copal incense could also be inserted into the mouth, creating a more dramatic, mysterious effect on or near an altar. Alternatively, another possibility may have involved the ceremonial ritual “feeding” of food or drink as an offering to a deceased ancestor or deity. Whatever the case, the heavy wear around the mouth opening does suggest the possibility of repeated activity concentrated around this area. Vessels such as these were often used in village or household shrines dedicated to venerating an important ancestor or deity.

The interior shows signs of heavy, repeated ritual use. The pitting, minor flaking, staining and residue buildup in the interior all suggest the burning of Copal incense or even blood offerings (on strips of bark paper), both of which are uses these types of vessels are known for relative to ancient Maya religious practices.

Condition: Intact with a few stable stress cracks emanating downward from the rim. This vessel shows wear and weathering from repeated, ancient ritual use, with residue, build-up and remnants of white stucco overall. Some pitting and flaking on the interior (where offerings would have been burned). Otherwise, some heavy wear, weathering, chips and abrasions in places overall. Loss to the nose and around the mouth of the applied face, as visible in the photos. A couple of museum number marks remain on the bottom.

Provenance: Former Mint Museum collection (deaccessioned), North Carolina, USA.

A fascinating artifact with excellent museum provenance and evidence of heavy ancient ritual use.


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