Shell ornament

Maya, Late Classic period (AD 600-800)
From Mexico

This ornament is made of spondylus princeps, the red-rimmed thorny oyster which was widely used in the Americas to fashion beads, pendants and other ornaments. A series of Maya hieroglyphs was incised on the interior in low relief. One refers to warfare, while another mentions a person whose name is also found on jade objects thrown as offerings into the Cenote (Sacred Well) of Sacrifice, at Chichen Itza.

Spondylus shells also feature among the élite objects found in the rich burial of an important ruler of Tikal, underneath Temple I. In the same tomb, marine shells were set on the fringes of a mat (since decayed) placed under his body. Spondylus shells have been found in caches throughout the Maya area since the Late Preclassic period (250 BC - AD 250), for example in Belize, at the sites of Nohmul, Pomona and Cerros.

Similar ornaments are depicted on mural paintings at Bonampack, a Maya site in the southern lowlands. The murals, painted on the three rooms of Structure 1, record Maya nobles attending an important celebration: the designation of the heir to the throne. The shell ornaments are used as pendants and pectorals, or sewn onto the long capes thrown over their shoulders.

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More information


D.R. Budet, Painting the Maya universe: ro (Durham, London, Duke University Press in association with Duke University Museum of Art, 1994)

L. Schele and M.E. Miller, The blood of kings (London, Thames & Hudson, 1986)

R. Sharer, Daily life in Maya civilizatio (London, Greenwood Press, 1996)

M. Coe and J. Kerr, The art of the Maya scribe (London, Thames & Hudson, 1997)

C. McEwan, Ancient Mexico in the British (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)


Height: 18.500 cm
Width: 10.000 cm

Museum number

AOA 1952.Am11.2


Gift of Michael Stuart


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