Burial Urns

first urn

no picture available

K'iché Maya Burial Urn (AD 650-850)

A human figure roughly 6 inches tall in a short vest sits on the urn's lid. The maw of a Xoc like supernatural figure is on the front of the urn. Xoc is a fishlike creature with a huge toothy mouth. The word Xoc originated from the English word shark. Emerging from inside its mouth is the head and arms of a deity. It looks like the deity is leaping out from inside the mouth of the Xoc. On the sides of the Urn are 4 faces, two on each side. The symbolism of the urn is not understood.

second urn

K'iché Maya Burial Urn (AD 650-850)

The lid is shaped like the head of a Xoc supernatural. The open mouth of the Xoc gives access to the inside of the urn. This hole was possibly used to make offerings before the urn was buried. It also may have symbolized a way for the world of the living to communicate with the deceased. Perhaps the soul of the deceased is supposed to be resurrected through the mouth of a Xoc supernatural. This would explain the symbolism of the first Urn. The figure leaping forth from the Maw of the Xoc is supposed to represent the resurrected soul of the deceased moving into the afterlife. In the second urn there is actually a hole where the soul of the dead can leave the urn for the afterlife through the mouth of the Xoc (my interpretation). On the top of the second urn is a figure possibly representing the maize god. He is holding an ear of maize in each hand. To the Maya the appearance of maize in the field year after year represented the resurrection of the human soul in the afterlife. This is another symbol of resurrection. The soul of the dead would have to pass in front of the maize god after leaving the mouth of the Xoc. The maize god might be welcoming the newly resurrected soul to the afterlife (my interpretation).

third urn

no picture available

K'iché Maya Burial Urn (AD 650-850)

This urn has a particularly ornate white, black, yellow, and red slip paint scheme compared to the other three urns. It is painted with a pattern of black spots resembling the fur coat of the jaguar. The jaguar spots are still distinct after a thousand years of burial. There is a jaguar/humanoid figure perched on top of the lid wearing a knotted scarf. The jaguar may be a link to human sacrifice and the underworld. There are small spikes on the sides of the urn painted white. These resemble incense burners from southern highlands of Guatemala.

fourth urn

no picture available

K'iché Maya Burial Urn (AD 650-850)

Emerging form the top of the urn is a jaguar like figure which may represent one of the hero Twins. The jaguar like figure also appears in the mouth of the Xoc creature on the front of the Urn. These images may represent the hero twins from the Popul Vuh. In the myth, the Hero Twins sacrifice themselves and are resurrected as fish-men in the river of the underworld.

Interpretation:

Not surprisingly, the images of on the urns seem to be symbols of resurrection. We know very little about Maya culture and legends so we may be misinterpreting the images on the urns and we are definitely missing the significance of the symbols not directly related to known legends such as the four heads on the side of the first urn. The urns are in very good condition. The tombs were not robbed and were protected form the elements by caves or stone buildings. The slip paint is slightly faded but still visible. The urns are simple for the most part. They look very heavy and only two of them have handles. It would have been difficult and awkward to carry the urns into caves. Perhaps ropes or wooden carriers were used.

back