Large Incense Burner

Guatemala, Tiquisate region (AD 350-550) Ceramic with white, yellow, and black slip paint, iron pyrite inset Height: ~45 inches

During the fourth and fifth centuries the Maya were in close contact with the great city of Teotihuacán in highland Mexico. This style of incense burner originated there. The top of the incense burner is sculpted in the form of a temple. A figure (probably a deity) is inside the temple. There were Iron pyrite inserts in the centers of the four floral medallions but only one of the inserts remains. The insert turned the flower into a mirror. The Mayan believed these mirrors were doors to supernatural realms. Burning coals and incense were placed in the base of the vessel. The smoke rose through the chimney in the back of the upper half and emerged from behind the roof.

Three Effigy Incense Burners

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Guatemala northern Petén lowlands (AD 400-550) Ceramic with black, red, and white, slip paint.

These three incense burners are all very similar. They top halves are each about a foot tall. Only one bottom half remains. Because of their similarity, they may have been a set. Each one represents a Maya dignitary, possibly a king. They wear ravish regal jewelry and each figure holds a human hearts in their outstretched hands in their laps. The one remaining bottom portion is shaped as the Sun god. The combination of fancy jewelry and human hearts in these incense burners suggests that (like the later Aztecs) the kings were responsible for offering human blood to feed the gods. This would keep the gods happy, rewarding the Maya with rain. Interestingly, the smoke from the incense comes out of the hole right under the human hearts. This suggests to me that the incense burner is supposed to represent the carrying of blood up to the gods in the sky. Perhaps the Sustenance of the human hears was supposed to ascend in to the air like the incense smoke.