Tripod Bird Bowl

Date: 3rd–4th century

Geography: Guatemala, Mesoamerica

Culture: Maya

Medium: Ceramic

Dimensions: H. 9 3/4 x W. 7 3/8in. (24.8 x 18.7cm)

Classification: Ceramics-Containers

Credit Line: Gift of Carolyn C. and Dan C. Williams, 1984

Accession Number: 1984.614a, b


A favored vessel type of the Maya lowlands was one made in the shape of a tropical bird, perhaps a cormorant, in the act of catching a fish in its beak. The bird's forehead is marked with a disk, probably depicting a mirror. Details of the bird are rendered on the lid, where its head forms the knob and its wings spread out onto the expanse of the lid. The fish is rendered three-dimensionally, carefully held in the wide bird beak. The bowl beneath the lid forms the body of the bird. In monochrome versions of the theme, as seen here, details are incised; in polychrome examples, they are multicolored. The symbolic meaning of the theme is not clear, even though it remains constant on the lids of a number of different bird-bowl types, from those without feet to four-footed examples. As these bowls have been found in some burials, the theme may relate to death and/or the afterlife, or, more simply, to the presumed contents of the vessel.