Double-Chambered Vessel

Date: 5th century

Geography: Guatemala or Mexico, Mesoamerica

Culture: Maya

Medium: Ceramic

Dimensions: H. 11 7/8 x W. 7 3/4 x D. 5 1/4 in. (30.2 x 19.7 x 13.3 cm)

Classification: Ceramics-Containers

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1963

Accession Number: 1978.412.90a, b


The cylindrical shape and pedestal feet of this double-chambered Maya vessel may be the result of the stylistic influence of Teotihuacan, the most powerful Mesoamerican site at the time this object was created. The iconography and inventiveness of form, however, are purely Maya. Although this object appears to be comprised of two joined lidded containers, only the cover with the human figure atop it is removable. This vessel, the design of which is appropriate for holding liquid, functioned as burial offering and was placed inside a tomb. The oversized, masked raptorial bird that decorates the pot appears to be related to the supernatural realm of the Maya; the scene depicted, in which a human figure holds out what is perhaps an offering to the avian creature, seems to derive from myth. The jaguar, a figure whose body stretches out between the two cylinders of the vessel, may have been regarded as a creature of supernatural power and ability in ancient Mesoamerica, associated with both strength and fertility. Positive identifications of the supernatural beings that populated the Maya otherworld are problematic given the lack of literary texts contemporary with objects such as this double-cylinder. It has, however, been suggested that the masked bird is Vucub Caquix, a character from the Popol Vuh, a sixteenth-century Maya text.