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Decorated Tubular Bead

Maya, Early Classic
200-650/750 CE
8.26 cm x 2.54 cm x 1.59 cm (3 1/4 in. x 1 in. x 5/8 in.)

Not on view


Perforated biconically through the length of the object, this bead may have been worn as part of a necklace, headdress, or other personal ornament. The front side features a twisted-cord design. The work is decorated only on one, flat side, contrasting with the rounded, plain back side. This arrangement results in a cross section in the form of a half-circle. The style of these beads is characteristic of the late Early Classic to early Late Classic tradition of carved tubular beads reported from Altun Ha, Tikal, and Kaminaljuyu.

As is common with jadeite objects, the carver of this specimen maximized the more brilliant green color to coincide with the carving, with the edges of the design spilling over onto the sides of the ornament to produce a three-dimensional effect. The wide, curvilinear incisions enhance this look by producing a soft, realistic impression of the intertwined, organic material. Faint remnants of red pigment can be observed in the carved lines, possibly reflecting common ancient practices.

The carved motif depicts two separate strands of cord or rope twisted around each other, with each strand doubled over, as shown by the U-shaped carving in the two opposing corners. The loose ends of each strand extend out, as if to coincide with the actual rope, twine, or thread inserted through the tubular bead. The design may be a simplified representation of oblique twill interlacing, used for rope or plied thread, or a twisted-cord motif. However, the wide variations of this theme suggest that the imagery on the Dumbarton Oaks object may make references to the plaited mat, a symbol associated with political significance, as mats were seats of authority.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1957 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, New York. p. 251, cat. 116-F, pl. LXVII.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1959 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. 2nd ed. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, London. p. 259, cat. 116-F, pl. LXVII.

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. 216-219, pl. 29, fig. 124.

Robicsek, Francis 1975 A Study in Maya Art and History: The Mat Symbol. Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, New York. fig. 280a.

Exhibition History
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, August 1956 to July 1962.
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Acquisition History
Purchased from Robert Stolper, New York (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1956.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1956-1962.

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

Bead | Mayas