Peter De Smet has worked on ethnopharmacology for many decades: native plants of the Americas as medicines and as drugs. Nicholas Hellmuth has worked on enema iconography since reading Furst and Coe 1977 on enema iconography. When Hellmuth and De Smet in the 1980’s realized they were both working separately on a similar topic: enemas, Hellmuth provided De Smet with dozens of 8x10” black-and-white photographs of vases and bowls that show enema rituals and accessories such as the enema jugs and enema syringes. De Smet used these to illustrate his PhD dissertation. When he published this dissertation in 1985, since the photos came from one source he courteously put Hellmuth as author of Appendix B. This was updated by De Smet and issued in 1986 as a co-authored report. This co-authored report won the year 2022 IG Nobel prize for art history.

Be sure to read the entire 1985 PhD dissertation of Peter De Smet since he has professional experience with plant chemicals, medicinal plants, and effects on the body by drinking and ingesting by enema. We show the one-year-later 1986 co-authored article below.

This is the first page of the article that won the Ig Nobel Prize for art history for 2022. It is helpful for students, iconographers and epigraphers to have this information available (because many enema jugs have a hieroglyph on their side (that in some cases says what plants were in the enema liquid).


Principal Diagnostic Accessories discovered by Hellmuth in 1977 within three months of the discovery of enema ritual by Furst and Coe in March 1977.

1978 update of 1977 discoveries by Hellmuth



1984 revised update of 1978 update of 1977 discoveries by Hellmuth

1985 update (used in 1985 De Smet PhD and De Smet and Hellmuth 1986). these 1985 notes are update to 1984 update of 1978 update of original Hellmuth discussion of enema ritual accessories in 1977.



Time-line of Discovery of Enema Paraphernalia and Enema Rituals, Nicholas Hellmuth

Enema Rituals of the Classic Maya and nearby Cultures of Mesoamerica, Bibliography and Suggested Reading by Nicholas Hellmuth and Maria Jose Toralla

Already within months of Furst and Coe 1977 further advances were available

The break-through article on Classic Maya enema scenes by Furst and Coe 1977 may have been the month of March, since it’s “No. 3” for year 1977. Like all other Mayanists I had no idea about enema rituals whatsoever, so when I saw this article, on one single vase, I dedicated months that same year to finding other vases. By the end of June I already had found enough enema scenes to present an entire symposium presentation on enema iconography.

  • HELLMUTH, Nicholas M.
  • 1977
  • Classic Maya Vase Paintings which now allow Identification of Enema Iconography. Paper read the International Symposium on Maya Art, Architecture, Archaeology, and Hieroglyphic Writing, June 25 - July 2, 1977, Foundation for Latin American Anthropological Research, Guatemala City.

    Peter De Smet kindly sent us the text of Hellmuth 1977. It has no title, but has the text used as a preview and summary of the contents of the enema presentation by Hellmuth in 1977. We have made this a PDF so you can download it and see how much new was found within 3 months of the remarkable Furst and Coe 1977 discovery of the first-seen Classic Maya enema ceremony.

Further advances in Maya enema ritual iconography in 1978

  • HELLMUTH, Nicholas M.
  • 1978
  • title unknown (but on enemas). Unpublished paper on Principal Diagonstic Accessories.

    Peter De Smet (1985: 56-57) notes that:
    Additional accessories in the enema vase paintings were listed by Nicholas M. Hellmuth in an unpublished paper from 1978, which still is the only detailed iconographical survey on the subject. A recently revised version of this paper is included in this thesis (Appendix B), and much of the underlying photographical material is also presented here (Appendix C).

Peter De Smet's archives are impressive. Two weeks ago he kindly sent us a copy of the 1978 report. It is photos of each page, so Paulo Nunez turned it into an open PDF and from that we made a PDF that you can download.

3rd edition of Hellmuth’s iconographic research on Maya enemas rituals in 1985

  • HELLMUTH, Nicholas M.
  • 1985
  • Principal Diagnostic Accessories of Maya Enema Scenes. Preliminary Notes in Maya Iconography, No. 5, F.L.A.A.R., Culver City, CA.

    First written in 1978; revised November 1984; revised again July 1985; thus cite as 3rd revised edition, 1985.

Lots more to come in 2022

Once we learned that we would be awarded the IG Nobel Prize in art history each of us (De Smet and Hellmuth), together and also independently, initiated lots more research since it is over a quarter of a century since the 1985 and 1986 publications (though De Smet and Loughmiller did a nice two volume update in 2020). But now, in 2022, lots more material is available; dozens of reports by professors who known the plants of Mesoamerica that could be (and most of which probably were) inside the enema jugs have written new articles. Hellmuth has found paintings of enema rituals that show large enema jugs that show hieroglyphs on the jug that is not the pulque or balche reference. Does that mean an epigrapher may find hints of additional ingredients?


First posted September, 2022 by Nicholas Hellmuth

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