Maya maize god statue

Copán, Honduras, Maya, Late Classic period (AD 600-800)

Maya maize god statue

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This sculpture of the Maize God was comissioned by Waxaklajuun Ub'aah K'awiil (also known as '18-Rabbit'), the thirteenth ruler of Copán. It was built in AD 715 to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of his accession to the throne.


The Maize God, with his vibrant, youthful features, represents the Maya ideal of beauty, and features prominently in Maya art during the Classic period (200 BC - AD 900). He personifies the agricultural cycle and is associated with abundance and prosperity. In this sculpture his headdress is a stylized ear of corn and his hair, the silk of the cob.

Maize has an important role in Maya creation myths. According to the Popol Vuh, a sacred book of the Quiché Maya, the gods created humans out of yellow and white corn, following unsuccessful attempts with mud and wood.

The main characters of this early colonial text are the hero twins and their father Hun Hunahpu, the Maize God. The events related in the Popol Vuh are also represented in the ceramics and other media from the Classic period.

Many similar busts were used as architectural embellishments on Structure 22 at Copán. Rather than being fashioned from a single block of limestone, the heads were sculpted separately from the torsos, and close inspection of this well-known version reveals differences in colour, graining and surface texture. The head is also disproportionately large compared with the narrow shoulders and slender torso.

This disparity may have been intentional or might indicate that this particular head and torso were not originally meant to fit together but were 'restored' in the late nineteenth century. 

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Object details

Height: 90 cm
Width: 54 cm
Depth: 40 cm

 

AOA 1886-321

     

    Gift of Alfred Maudslay

    References

    S.G. Morley, G.W. Brainerd and R. J. Sharer, The ancient Maya, 5th ed. (Stanford University Press, 1994)

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

    K. Taube, Aztec and Maya myths (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)

    D. Tedlock, Popol Vu (New York, Touchstone, 1996)

    S. Martin and N. Grube, Chronicle of the Maya kings an (Thames and Hudson, 2000)

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    G. Barker, The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory: Why Did Foragers Become Farmers? (Oxford, 2007)

    M. Coe, The Maya (London, 2005)

    S.T. Evans, Ancient Mexico and Central America: Archaeology and Culture History, (London, 2008)

    S. Johannesson, and C. Hastorf, Corn and Culture in the Prehistoric World (Oxford, 1994)

    Piperno, Doleres et al., ‘Starch Grain and Phytolith Evidence for Early Ninth Millennium B.P. Maize from the Central Balsas River Valley, Mexico’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (2009), 5019–5024. Tetlock, Dennis, Popol Vuh (New York, 1996)