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Incense Burner with Head of a Jaguar

Incense Burner with Head of a Jaguar
Incense Burner with Head of a Jaguar
Guatemala, Maya
Late Classic, ca. 600-900
Terracotta
(82.434)
Gift of Philip Pearlstein

Containers like this were used for burning incense and other offerings, including pieces of paper splattered with human blood. Blood offerings were very important to the Maya, who believed the gods required this ritual to ensure the continuing order of nature. The reason for the jaguar head on this burner is not clear, although it is certain that peoples throughout Meso- and South America revered the jaguar as a swift and mighty predator. In Maya religious thought, the jaguar was the most powerful "Spiritual Co-Essence" of the priests and rulers, and this co-essence might be invoked through the use of the vessel. The projections down the sides of the burner represent the spikes of the sacred ceiba tree, which the Maya considered as a living axis mundi, or center of the world. They believed such a tree penetrated the navel of the earth, reaching from the underworld to the heavens. Jaguars prowl in the same forests where the ceiba trees grow.

This vessel, like all pottery of the Americas, was made without the use of the potter's wheel. It was built up by hand with coils of clay and then smoothed. The jaguar head and the projections down the sides were made separately and then attached before firing.

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