Iconography of Quiche Mayan ceramic art, images of pottery burial urns at Popol Vuh Museum.

Iconography of Quiche Mayan ceramic art, images of pottery burial urns at the Popol Vuh Museum, Universidad Francisco Marroquin.

Archaeologist and art historian Dr Nicholas Hellmuth initiated a long range program to study the iconography of Quiche Maya urns over a decade ago.

This project had been encouraged by the Board of Directors of the Museo Popol Vuh, Universidad Francisco Marroquin.

Dr Hellmuth has been a Visiting Professor at this university for several years in the recent past. . He taught digital photography, panorama photography, and rollout photography.

In the past volunteers from Germany assisted in this project. However no short-term volunteers are realistic; need to stay long enough to make a meaningful contribution. FLAAR personnel speak español, English, and some Deutsch. FLAAR is fully tri-lingual.

Several years ago our staff kept growing, so with 12+ people there are not many universities nowadays with enough space. So we returned to being independent about four years ago and have our own facilities about 2 km from the university. Today (since 2006) as we approach 2013, we do not do any more museum photography because we are occupied with general research and producing our full-color PDFs. So we no longer have joint volunteer programs with the museum.

Felines are important to know about if you study Quiche urns

Quiche urns have frontal faces of deities or deity-like portraits of important individuals. Or the urns are decorated with comical felines and skulls. So we are doing a long range project to study felines.

Mayan Urns in Guatemala
Pantera Onca Jaguar, Jaguar at Autosafari Chapín. Photo taken by Sofía Monzón, Copyright FLAAR 2012.

Here are some examples of felines in Guatemala.

Mayan Urns in Guatemala
Leopardus pardalis, Ocelot at Autosafari Chapín. Photo taken by Sofía Monzón, Copyright FLAAR 2012.

There are five felines species in Guatemala: four have spots. The jaguarundi is a relatively solid color and never really has noticeable spot patterns.

Mayan Urns in Guatemala
Puma Yagouaroundi, Yagouaroundi at Autosafari Chapín. Photo taken by Sofía Monzón, Copyright FLAAR 2012.

Occasionally a jaguar will be black, but it is partially an optical illusion in the sense that the spots are still there, just not as visible due to the strange color of the fur. It is sort of a 180 degree turn from an albino (of course the biological reasons are different).

Mayan Urns in Guatemala
Leopardus Wiedii Margay Small, Margay at Autosafari Chapín. Photo taken by Sofía Monzón, Copyright FLAAR 2012.

Museo Popol Vuh has excellent collection of Quiche burial urns

The Museo Popol Vuh is next to the Museo Ixchel. Both are on the beautiful and peaceful campus of the private Universidad Francisco Marroquin, 6a calle final zona 10 Guatemala 01010.

City buses do not go to the university itself; you need to walk a few blocks. Returning back to your hotel realize that it is a really steep hike up the hill to get back near the city bus stations. A cab might be a good investment at least on the way back.

National Museum of Archaeology also exhibits Quiche Burial urns.

The national archaeology and ethnography museum also offers exhibits of Quiche burial urns. The Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología de Guatemala (MUNAE) is next to the government art museum and across the parking lot from the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural. All are within a short distance of the La Aurora city zoo. All of this is within about five minutes of the Guatemala City airport, La Aurora.

Images of Quiche burial urns in the museum of glass and archaeology: Hotel Casa Santo Domingo

Since these urns are fragile, and large, we prefer not to take them out of their exhibit cases, so we do the best we can to photograph them in-situ. We have prepared a separate PDF on Quiche urns and a new web page on the Quiche urns in these other museums.

Images of Quiche burial urns in the Museo de Arqueologia; Hotel Casa Santo Domingo

Mayan Urns in Guatemala
Photo by Nicholas Hellmuth, circa 2007-2009, courtesy of VIGUA museum of mayan art and glass.

Since these urns are fragile, and large, we prefer not to take them out of their exhibit cases, so we do the best we can to photograph them in-situ. We have prepared a separate PDF on Quiche urns and a new web page on the Quiche urns in these other museums.

Images of Quiche burial urns in the Museo de Arqueologia; Hotel Casa Santo Domingo

Mayan Urns in Guatemala
Photo by Nicholas Hellmuth, circa 2007-2009, courtesy of Ruta Maya Conservation Fundation.

To do an inventory of all the standard themes on the Highland Quiche burial urns would require a new thesis or dissertation. But a quick generalization of the most common types: you get

  • frontal deity faces or masks,

  • full-figure felines (usually playful parody),

  • or skulls.

These are often flanked with the conical spines of ceiba and related sacred trees. Spines modeled after those of the Ceiba pentandra tree are more often found on incense burners but are occasionally found on burial urns.

Mayan Urns in Guatemala
Ceiba pentandra, Photo taken by Sofía Monzón, Copyright FLAAR 2012.

We show here samples of actual Ceiba pentandra trees. On the actual trees the spines vary greatly in size, shape, and placement. After the tree is over 15 to 20 years old it tends to have fewer spines. Older ceiba trees may have spines only on their branches.

Our web site on 3D scanner reviews will have 3 dimensional rotatable photogrammetric images of ceiba tree trunks within a week or so (before Christmas, 2012).

Mayan Urns in Guatemala
Here is a wide-angle view of the display in the Museo Popol Vuh, UFM (taken many years ago). Since there is a glass façade between me and the Quiche urns I can’t provide adequate lighting to bring out the iconographic details.

Tanja Rathjen in the Museo Popol Vuh
Tanja Rathjen, a volunteer from Germany who worked for FLAAR about one year, doing a rollout of a Quiche urn, in the Popol Vuh Museum Popol Vuh, Guatemala.

Print of a giant rollout, Quiche urn
Nicholas Hellmuth and an assistant, appreciating the print in wide format size of a rollout of a Quiche burial urn.

Most recently updated Nov. 30, 2012. Previously updated April 2011.
Page originally posted about ten years ago

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