Peccaries can be found in Maya diet, art, astronomy, iconography and epigraphy. It is often tough to identify which species is represented in the renditions in stone or ceramic, so usually they are called just generic peccary. But out in the Neotropical forests, the two species are rather distinctive.

  • collared peccary Tayassu tajacu, javelina
  • white-lipped peccary, Tayassu albirostris, synonym ofTayassu pecari

Peccaries in Classic Maya Art, Iconography and Epigraphy

Occasionally you can find a peccary as a ceramic figurine. I do not know many peccary shown on stone stelae or altars. However one place you see a lot of reptiles and mammals on stone sculptures is at Copan. I would need to check and see if these include any peccary (I am writing this page in Newark, NJ airport, en route from a (museum) glass printing technology expo in Germany, en route to a textile printing technology expo in Las Vegas, and presently there is no Internet available to check (and I am rather far from any of my libraries)).

In murals peccary are best known for Bonampak. The most thorough recent publications on the murals of Bonampak are by Mary Miller, Yale University. Since the peccary in the Bonampak murals are related to the night sky, you can also read books on Maya astronomy and archaeo-astronomy.

But where I see the most renditions of peccary are as tetrapod supports on Early Classic vessels, both polychrome and monochrome (in this case usually black or otherwise dark). In some cases the supports are only three, so technically the vessel is a "tripod" but these are not normally related to cylindrical tripods of Tikal.

In the 1990's I wrote a lengthy inventory of all known peccary-shaped tetrapod supports together with a discussion of mammiform tetrapod supports. Usually the mammiform (breast and nipple) are earlier; the peccary supports evolve from these. So far, however, I have not understood why breasts and peccary snouts are related in Maya cosmology. Hopefully a linguist or ethnozoologist can figure this out.


Peccary images in the art of Copan Ruinas, Honduras

The most remarkable images of peccary known in Maya art are from Copan incised peccary skull number 1. This has been published many times over the decades. The most recent line drawing is by Barbara Fash, 1989.


Peccary heads as tetrapod supports for a polychrome ceramic vessel, Tzakol style, photographed over 25 years ago. Many other peccary images are in my PhD dissertation 1985, published about a year or so later as Monster und Menschen in der Maya Kunst.

Peccaries in the Popol Vuh

He Who Has Begotten Sons,14 as they are called; along with Hunahpu Possum15 and Hunahpu Coyote,16 Great White Peccary17 and Coati,18 Sovereign19 and Quetzal Serpent,20 Heart of Lake and Heart of Sea,21 Creator of the Green Earth and Creator of the Blue Sky,22 

17  Saqi Nima Aq (Great White Peccary). The word saqi  may be translated as "light, bright, or white."
Later in the text (p. 98; line 1055), this same god is described as having very white hair due to his advanced age; thus "white" is the most likely translation here. In that same passage, "Great White Peccary" is given as one of the names or titles of the patriarchal creator god Xpiyacoc mentioned in the next paragraph. There are two species of peccary, or wild pig, living in Central America—Peccari angulatus yucatanensis (Collared Peccary) and Tayassu pecari  (White-lipped Peccary). The latter is perhaps intended here because it is the larger of the two and is decorated with white facial markings. (Christenson page 52).

"Reveal your names, Hunahpu Possum and Hunahpu Coyote, Great She Who Has Borne Children and Great He Who Has Begotten Sons, Great Peccary and Great Coati, Jeweler and Worker in Precious Stones, Sculptor and Wood Worker, Creator of the Green Earth and Creator of the Blue Sky, Incense101 Maker and Master Artist,102 (Christenson page 69).

They were people who now walked bent over with age. Great White, Peccary was the name of the Grandfather, and Great White Coati was the name of the Grandmother. (Christenson page. 85-86).

Now it was all the animals, both great and small, that had done it—the puma and the jaguar, the deer and the rabbit, the fox and the coyote, the peccary and the coati, the small birds and the great birds. These had done it. In a single night they did it. . (Christenson page.138).

The first of these were the puma and the jaguar. The boys wanted to grab them, but they would not give themselves up.
Then emerged the deer and the rabbit. They grabbed them by their tails, but these just broke off, leaving the tail of the deer behind in their hands along with the tail of the rabbit. Thus they still have shortened tails.353 Neither would these give themselves up—the fox or the coyote, the peccary or the coati. All the animals just passed on by in front of Hunahpu and Xbalanque. (Christenson page.139).

Then Xbalanque summoned all of the animals—the coati and the peccary, and all the animals both small and great—while it was still dark, early in the morning. He then entreated them for their food: (Christenson page 161).

Peccary heads as tetrapod supports for Early Classic (Tzakol) bowls

About three black and three or four polychrome Early Classic bowls have peccary supports. Normally there are four supports, so these bowls are called tetrapods. Of ones with peccary supports, so far most have no basal flange.  We are issuing a separate report on these peccary-head supports where we note that most of the bowls show water birds or other scenes of the watery cosmology of the Maya.

An additional report discusses the fact that these tetrapod peccary-head supports come a few generations after the supports for comparable vessels are mammiform. Then the supports become less breast-like (but stay globular-shaped). The final evolution is the peccary head with the nose area almost like a button added.

Updated October 28, 2014
After continuing towards a long range goal of re-publishing Maya art which was used to illustrate my PhD dissertation of 1985 and the subsequent coffee table book publication in 1987.

First posted October 24, 2014
After studying peccaries for the umteenth time at AutoSafari Chapin, near the Pacific Ocean coastal area, Guatemala, Central America.

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