Rollout drawings of Maya vases to assist epigraphers, iconographers, museum curators, and students

During the recent decades the quantity and quality of epigraphers from Guatemala, Mexico, USA and across Europe has been impressive. Comparable with iconographers: books on iconography are coming out every year with additional documentation. Writing the text part of the books and peer-reviewed journal articles, theses and dissertations is obviously crucial, but what is lasting are the images. I say this gently because all of us have an understanding in the 1970’s and then with all the advances today we realize that some aspects need to be revised. The drawings on this page are from the 1970’s. Their documentation is what lasts. Their captions often need updating.

And also the drawings; many are sketches without an epigrapher correcting the rendering of the hieroglyphs. But at least the epigraphers know which scenes to look at so they can redraw the glyphs. Every time I look at a 1960’s-1990’s drawing of a stelae, lintel, wall panel, or altar I can see aspects that could nowadays (in 2023) be improved. But those heritage drawings allow everyone to have basic material to study.

There are about 56 drawings in the 1976 portfolio that was published and distributed to museums around the world (will have to check but at least 50 copies were printed, probably through Frank Comparato, who created Labyrinthos on his own during the decade he was project manager at FLAAR.

We have prints of about 40 of the 56 drawings. We would like to publish 10-per-week (since due to their large Megabyte file size it is not as easy to have them initiate a database as the hundred-times-smaller Kilobyte files of other databases of other drawings (100KB is better than nothing but 2 to 5 MEGAbytes helps even more). We hope someday to find the original inked drawings. But in the meantime, here are drawings for epigraphers, iconographers, students, museum curators.


Credit to illustrator Barbara Van Heusen, Persis Clarkson and Lin Crocker.


Citation can be in your preferred academic style but here is the basic info:

  • HELLMUTH, Nicholas M.
  • 1976
  • Tzakol and Tepeu Maya Pottery Paintings Portfolio of Rollout Drawings by Barbara Van Heusen, Persis Clarkson and Lin Crocker. Edited by Nicholas M. Hellmuth. Foundation for Latin American Anthropological Research.


Since each illustrator worked hard to produce an inked image of the polychrome scene it is appropriate and appreciated when the illustrator is cited in addition to the author/editor. Since these drawings are the results of years of research in the 1970’s, it is also appreciated when the citations to illustrator and author/editor are in the captions beneath the image. To dump this into the back of a book in 6-point font is common but is a sad aspect of commercial publications.

These drawings were published almost half a century ago and most are on-line (but at low resolution and often no credit to either the illustrator nor the author/editor nor the publisher. Publisher can be abbreviated to FLAAR (it is not necessary to write out the entire original name).

If in an article or comparable (conference paper, etc.) please send a good-resolution PDF to FLAAR.

If in a book by a university press or in a museum catalog or comparable, please be sure the credits are physically under the drawing (and that the illustrator is credited in addition to the author/editor). We would appreciate two copies of the publication (so no fee, but the two copies would be appreciated).


Due to requests from scholars, we are doing our best to make drawings available


During recent months scholars have asked for drawings; epigraphers and iconographers have been asking. Plus as I do more and more research on iconography, I see the literally hundreds of our drawings in my 1987 PhD dissertation used around the world (with permission). But my goal is to make these drawings available at healthy resolution (so colleagues don’t have to scan them themselves which results in breaking the binding of the book). I start with the 1976 portfolio of drawings because the copy in the Museo Popol Vuh library of UFM is missing several pages. Another even larger library in California kindly sent a scan of what they had of the same portfolio: same issue: several pages were missing. But last year I found the captions to most of the 56 drawings, so the other images did exist. So surely there are libraries in the USA that have the missing illustrations. So our goal is to show what we have and what is missing. And, to make all the drawings available to students for term papers, theses, and PhD dissertations. And so professors can download the drawings and use them in their own PowerPoint presentations. Cooperation and collaboration is helpful.

Hellmuth 1976: Fig. 1, drawing by Barbara Van Heusen.

Scenes with “3-dimensional masks” are common in the central part of the Maya Lowlands as you can also see in the following Figure 2.

Late Classic, Tepeu 2, (has purported Motul de San Jose emblem glyph, but this designation is still being studied by epigraphers; In the 1970’s Ian Graham had suggested the glyph may turn out to be for another site); private collection; published rollout photograph in M. Coe 1970’s was after someone sadly cleaned off certain areas of black manganese spots; rollout drawing by Barbara Van Heusen was prepared before vase was cleaned showing suspected black headdress plumage for Fig. 1 which restorer believed merely to be aging discoloration (frequently found on vases). In subsequent publications pre-cleaning photographs will be published to illustrate the vase as found in private collection.


For a line drawing the average size available as on-line downloads from the Internet is not many Kilobytes.

For a photograph of an entire vase, the average size available on line is a hundred or so Kilobytes; often 200 or a tad more but KB.

An average size for the helpful drawings of John Montgomery vary but a sample I just downloaded was 434KB, which for a line drawing is multiple times more helpful resolution than the 50% less resolution for a full-color photograph.

Thus we have tried to provide students, scholars, and museum researchers files of higher resolution. As soon as a kind soul or foundation can donate funds so we can obtain an Epson Expression 12000XL double-page size photo scanner, we can provide even higher resolution. But in the meantime we provide 2 to 4MEGAbytes per image (so about 2,000 to 4,000 KB).


Hellmuth 1976: Fig. 2, drawing by Persis Clarkson. San Antonio Museum of Art.

Similar regional atelier as Figure 1 (3-dimensional headdresses). I estimate these would be sharks; BUT… but the teeth are not the correct size, AND no “front shark “fang””, AND the “ear” has three dots, which is more common for a “Bufo toad.” I have a 50+ page report on “Bufo toad” iconography (obviously with the zoological names used in the current decade Rhinella marina not the zoological names I first saw back in the 1970’s when I started studying these toads. The expected thick curl coming from the inside of the back of the jaw (that is pictured on most Bufo toad facial hieroglyphs) are not shown here (probably because they would obscure the well-fed face of this pompous individual).

Occasionally Bufo toad features are merged with turtles or with iguanas. Daniel Salazar Lama has presented me (personal communication Dec-2022-Jan-2023) suggestions on faces elsewhere being turtles and I have found iguanas with similar rows of triangular-shaped teeth. So lots of epigraphy, iconography and ethnozoological research needs to be accomplished but the first step is to make the images available and to raise the questions. Plus, to remind us all that not all toads are anatomically pictured; not all turtles are anatomically pictured; and not all iguanas are anatomically pictured. So LOTS of fresh research topics available for students (MA thesis, PhD dissertation) and for research of professors and museum curators.

I estimate the objects held in their hands are not enema syringes (which would be oval gourd-shaped not round-oval shape). Enema syringes would have a much shorter tube (and no extra width part at the end! That said, Bufo toad chemicals are used in flavoring cacao (as Thomas Gage told us back in the 1600’s) and Bufo toad chemicals were used in enema rituals (as I found in an 8th century scene a few days after I gave my enema lecture for Aztlander, hosted by Jim Reed).

The giant Tlaloc and Yearsign symbols (upside down) on the two women are of notable size. The vertical hems of these women need to be studied by finding a high-resolution photograph (on-line database photos are not yet high-enough to show details in the hem of a woman’s clothing).


Hellmuth 1976: Fig. 3, drawing by Persis Clarkson.

I have studied deer hunting, the relationship of deer hunting outfits to ballgame outfits (obviously deer hunters do not wear ballgame yokes, hachas or chest-protectors). But some headdresses of hunters are also worn by ballplayers (who hunt the people on the opposing team).

The water scene with what would be assumed to be a fish is a curious relationship with a hunting scene. Plus the “fish” has two black dots on its “ear”. What if this is a Bufo toad? (that usually has three dots on its ear; there is space where the third dot may have eroded off in past centuries). A fish is what is expected but how many Maya fish have an ear with spots?

The tree surprisingly has no deity face at its base.

The hunter is using an atlatl to hurl an unexpectedly long dart (more the length of a spear than a dart).

The ”paddle” of the sombrero man has no “paddle” part but has a “blowgun” eye guide on its end. Needs more study but I suggest checking all blowguns to see if they have this accessory near one end.


Hellmuth 1976: Fig. 4, drawing by Lin Crocker.

This scene is in my Atzlander 2022 Powerpoint presentation (what is available on their website as a video).

Two of the individuals wear long thick bibs. LOTS of iconography and a nice PSS to study.

Late Classic, probably Tepeu 1, Central Maya Lowlands, private collection, original condition. Lots of enema jugs; lots of happy jaguars, monkeys, and one deer. Enema jugs carried in tumplines by monkey and deer; other enema jugs being offered; special turban-bibs worn by Personage 7 and 11, and 13; Personage 15 dominates the scene (and has the PSS sequence introducing glyph above his head). Similar netted body suits are worn by characters on a pair of plates. See Hellmuth and DeDmet and Hellmuth, plus updates after Ig Nobel Prize 2022 for Art History for a complete description of enema iconography; as typical of this present painting, syringes are not always shown, and actual insertion is quite rare, known only from about 5 paintings, mostly Tzakol 3 and Tepeu 1 in date.


Hellmuth 1976: Fig. 5, drawing by Lin Crocker.

Sky Band thrones are common; serpent aspects of celestial bands are common (this one even has the V-shaped cross-hachure (black) snake skin pattern. Two large enema jugs are the subject of discussion between God D on the throne and a seated mammal-actor in front.

After Michael Coe’s 1973 Grolier Club monograph re-introduced iconography to scholars I was inspired to look for Late Classic deities that had not yet been identified by Coe. So I was able to find and identify God D and Coe courteously cited this recognition in his subsequent publications.


Figure 6 is missing from the portfolio in two libraries that we checked

Figure 7 is missing from the portfolio in two libraries that we checked.

Altogether, all of the following figures are missing from two libraries (MPV UFM in Guatemala and one impressive library in California).

Figs. 6, 7, 11, 12, 14, 15, 27, 29, 35, 39, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 56 and 56

We hope that colleagues or libraries elsewhere can find the missing pages so we can complete this decade of research and drawings.


Hellmuth 1976: Fig. 8, drawing by Lin Crocker. Text below was written almost half a century ago (so cite text as Hellmuth 1976: caption for Fig. 8).

Late Classic, probably Tepeu 2, Central Maya Lowlands, fine original condition, Juan U. Maegli Collection, Guatemala City. This especially important painting illustrates the actual moment of sacrifice, and directly connects the specially costumed dancers with human sacrifice. Personage 1 is a victim with blood spurting from the wound caused by the hatchet wielded by executioner, Personage 2. His face is seemingly in front view, but actually it is a joined double profile, that is, two distinct profile faces joined in the middle to form a front view face. In Maya vase paintings, outside of Tzakol 3 when Teotihuacan Tlalocs are shown normally in Central Mexican manner full front view, front view faces are known from only three vases (coincidently, one being another actual sacrifice scene where the victim is in front face view; this particular sacrifice though, has no Dance after Death symbolism). The executioner wears a mouth plaque of “triple-bow tie", symbol of sacrificial bloodletting, originally identified by David Joralemon in connection with penis perforation bloodletting; the stacked bow tie design is present in a variety of bloody situations. The left part of the headdress is the “black blob” (found on several other vases od sacrifice dances) with crossed bands.

His belt is adorned with the giant round cloth tie, frequently seen on executioners, on Tikal Altar 5 for example, right hand personage. Associated with the giant round cloth tie are pendant of white cloth with red spots— the diagnostic characteristic of human sacrifice ritual clothing. In his left hand the executioner wields the special hatchet, with long handle, curved end, and tassels. Personage 3 has similar red spotted white pendant. He carries a rattlesnake in his forward band, and a poorly reproduced severed, bleeding human head in the other hand. In most other death dance scenes it is the Death God, God A, who carries the severed head, In this case, the executioner ' s own face is encased in a see-through mask of a giant horrid mythical creature; the executioner wears the standard red scarf. The feathers on his arm are not known from other scenes; in this case their significance is unknown; they are not God L headdress feathers in this context. Personage 5 is the severed head; Personage 6 is a man dressed in a venomous serpent costume, with deer antlers on the superorbital plate, The triangle and circles on the snake's body are typical markings of Peten poisonous snakes in vase paintings. Crudely drawn PSSequence rims the scene. The extensive Maegli Collection has additional Dance after Death scenes showing actual moments prior to execution; this other vase will be illustrated and described in subsequent publications; it is on exhibit in TECUN S.A. headquarters building, 3rd Avenue and 3rd Valle in Zone 9, Guatemala City.


Hellmuth 1976: Fig. 9, drawing by Persis Clarkson.

Hellmuth 1976: Fig. 9, drawing by Persis Clarkson. This painting is authentic: no modern fake paint (pretending to “restore” the scene). Because there is no restoration we wish to make this available at 52.8 MB file size (photographing using a studio copy stand, digital camera, in RAW mode). I was able to clear a tad of the B&W print having turned the red colors solid black; I was about to software-remove a tad; plus this increased file size to 104.8 MB. This way, if you are an epigrapher or iconographer today, and can find the original vase, you can redraw on a Wacom tablet with the help of our high-res file and your ability to see the details from the original 8th-9th century painting.

Text below was written almost half a century ago (so cite text as Hellmuth 1976: caption for Fig. 9).

Late Classic, Tepeu 2, Central Maya Lowlands, private collection. God A, the death skeleton, holds the freshly severed, still bleeding head of a sacrificial victim as he leads the dance. He has an Akbal Jug hanging from his arm, and carries an unidentified plate holding unidentified substances in his left hand. Personage 3 sites in a giant glyph cartouche; his role is not understood. Personage 4 is a Water Lily Jaguar with a rattlesnake as scarf instead of the usual red cloth scarf. Horrid birds also have the same snake scarf in the other scenes. The face of the feline and of the serpent will be restored in subsequent corrections of this preliminary drawing— close up slides show that the detail is actually still visible on the vase. Personage 5 sticks his face out of the jaws of a mythical serpent sporting deer antlers and a large typical Peten deer ear with query mark. The person' s face has a white cloth with diagnostic red spots as nose pendant decoration; similar white cloths with red spots are used as ear tassels, bracelets, and anklets by other personages in this scene. Personage 7 calmly smokes a narcotic cigar as he is ingulfed in flames; other Dance after Death scenes have jaguar characters backed by flames (Karl Heinz Nottebohm collection for example). Personage 12 has diagnostic black-white-black scarf, giant round cloth tie with red spots on his belt, and is surrounded by fleshless double headed reptile. Personage 11 wears black-white-black scarf, holds bell bleeding, freshly severed head, and is being inspected by two fish.

Pssequence has not yet been transferred to the drawing.


Hellmuth 1976: Fig. 10, drawing by Barbara Van Heusen and Lin Crocker.

We will rescan this for a later update; the image here is a copy-and-paste png file from the PDF.

Late Classic, Tepeu 2, Central Maya lowlands, original condition, Museo Popol Vuh, Universidad Francisco Marroquin, Guatemala City. Courtesy of the MPV, UFM, we had a photo studio at the Museo Popol Vuh for over a year. Subsequently the UFM appointed Hellmuth as a guest visiting research professor in digital imaging and we were undertaking advanced wide-format inkjet printing research around the world, at UFM and simultaneously Hellmuth was also a guest visiting research professor at BGSU in their Department of Technology. We researched, tested, and published documentation on how to accomplish good resolution digital rollout photographs. One of the MPV ceramics we printed at 42-inched high by over a dozen yards long on a HP printer.

Personage 1 sits on black-white-black throne, and wears black-white-black cape; he is surrounded by throne enclosure of the same kind as on vase elsewhere in this portfolio . Although this vase is quite eroded and all of the left part is only faintly preserved, a giant deity mask is discernable under the throne; probably this would have been a Cauac Monster. Personage 2, Water Lily Jaguar, holds victim as executioner slices off his head with unhafted knife; blood spots drip from the opening wound, Personages 5 and 6 sit mutely in front of the enthroned lord. It would be interesting to speculate where this scene might be taking place— outside, on terrace steps? None of these scenes are likely to be taking place inside the typical Maya "temples" of Peten sites, since they do not have enough space. Females 7 and 9 are practically identically robed and have stylish sombreros on their deformed heads. Woman 9 is symbolically carried by Personage 8 on his tumpline, although her considerable weight is supported by a deity image under her feet. Female 7 carries a load in a backpack held by a cloth around her chest; the typical manner of a woman carrying a load.

The present webpage is to help everyone have access to these half-century old drawings. So no bibliography. But for the ritual throne room with leaf-like/feather-like, bone-related elevated throne rooms the Figure 8.4 of Jeremy Coltman (2021) shows practically the same throne but facing the other direction. Would be helpful for epigraphers to see if that vase (Kerr rollout, K5847) is by same painter, or same atelier as the one we show here.


Front cover of the portfolio of rollout drawings of Maya vases, bowls and plates


This is a scan of the actual front cover of the 1976 publication. This excellent drawing by Barbara Van Heusen shows the hieroglyphs in pretty good detail (despite the fact that neither she nor Hellmuth are epigraphers).

The actual drawing is Figure 41 that we will be showing as soon as we can develop a database (it’s a challenge to have images in MB file size since most Maya vase photographs are only in low KB file size in on-line databases (but these are a great start and great help for general research)). But higher resolution is more assistance for students doing their MA thesis or PhD dissertation and epigraphers, iconographers, museum curators doing their research.


To avoid permissions and fee, lots of authors “redraw” the illustrations. But there is no fee, and no permission needed, so you can use the original illustration (obviously if you wish to improve the hieroglyphs or details, we fully understand, but 90% of the drawings we have seen in museum exhibit catalogs of recent 30 years are taken from our publications often pretending they were totally drawn by another artist when in fact our drawings already existed). At least “drawing after…” (original illustrator and original author/editor) is an academic courtesy.


Finding the missing drawings would help rescue this half-century old Portfolio of Rollout Drawings of Maya Vases, Bowls, Plates


Year by year we try to find the original rollout drawings, plus other drawings that were accomplished but there not in the 1976 portfolio. Our goal is to make all these available at good resolution.



First posted January, 2023 by Nicholas Hellmuth

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