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Camahuil Figurine

Maya, Late Preclassic
300 BCE-300CE
18.42 cm x 8.57 cm x 5.08 cm (7 1/4 in. x 3 3/8 in. x 2 in.)

Not on view


Known as a camahuil (based on the K’iche’ word for “deity” or “idol”) , this portable sculpture is carved in the shape of a human, with its profile the form of a stone axe. This particular figurine is more elaborate, with better-defined features than most of the camahuiles documented from archaeological excavations and private collections. These sculptures served various ceremonial functions, as they were found in funerary settings as offerings in caches and broken inside architectural fill.

Most examples recovered so far come from the Quiche region of the Guatemala Highlands, although they are also reported from Early Classic (or earlier) contexts at Monte Albá. The Dumbarton Oaks camahuil is said to have come from the vicinity of the modern town of Santo Tomás Chichicastenango, Quiche, in the Guatemala Highlands. While most camahuiles have a very simple shape, this figure seems to be seated on a throne, a characteristic that makes this piece unique. Other sculptures of seated individuals are known from Middle Preclassic contexts in the central highlands of Guatemala; however, these earlier works are larger in scale.

Benson, Elizabeth P. 1963 Handbook of the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 12, cat. 52.

Lothrop, Samuel K. 1936 Zacualpa, a Study of Ancient Quiché Artifacts. Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication, 472. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C., p. 95, fig. 103.

Pillsbury, Joanne, Miriam Doutriaux, Reiko Ishihara-Brito and Alexandre Tokovinine (EDS.) 2012 Ancient Maya Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks, Number 4. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 174-175, pl. 16.

Acquisition History
Gift to Dumbarton Oaks by Samuel K. Lothrop, 1962.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.

Anthropomorphic | Figures | Mayas