Skip to Content


Maya, Late Classic
718 CE
11.43 cm x 15.88 cm (4 1/2 in. x 6 1/4 in.)

On view


A master craftsman carved this bowl from a single piece of banded onyx marble. Using stone drills, he created walls that are only an eighth of an inch thick at the rim and measure scarcely half of that in certain incised parts of the design. This remarkable thinness enhances the natural translucency of the stone, a feature that was highly valued by the ancient Maya.

The bowl has a hieroglyphic text incised around the rim and is decorated with three scenes, separated by columns of six flutes. Each scene features a different individual, who looks to his or her right and extends a hand holding something. The bearded man visible in this photograph is paired conceptually with a woman in the next scene to the right. Both are seated in conventionalized serpent jaws, indicating proximity to the divine. He leans forward, appearing to offer a short ceremonial serpent bar, an insignia of power. At the far end of the bar, above the serpent face, is the sign for the number seven—a vertical bar with two dots. Behind him, the woman, wearing a long dress and many ornaments, holds a long-nosed head, above which is the sign for the number nine—a vertical bar with four dots. The 7-head and 9-head glyphs are paired repeatedly in Maya art, and they may refer to complementary aspects of earthly fertility. The third figure on the bowl is an artist scribe—possibly the creator of this bowl—who sits cross-legged, supporting his body with one hand and offering a saurian head with the other. He wears a bundle of quills fastened to his headcloth, and the glyphs next to him identify him as Yiban, the personal artist/scribe of a warlord.

Anonymous 1962 Pre-Columbian Art. Sekai Bijutsu Zensh?; V. 24. Kadokawa Shoten, Tokyo. p. 224, fig. 22.

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. 49.

Benson, Elizabeth P. 1967 The Maya World. Crowell, New York. p. 108.

Benson, Elizabeth P. 1977 The Maya World. Revised ed. Crowell, New York.

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. 259-260, cat. 140, pl. LXXXVI, LXXXVII, fig. 23.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1959 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. 2nd edition ed. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, London. p. 267-268, cat. 160, pl. LXXXVI, LXXXVII, fig. 23.

Bühl, Gudrun 2008 Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 214-215.

Coe, Michael D. 1966 The Maya. Ancient Peoples and Places, V. 52. Praeger, New York. pl. 62.

Coe, Michael D. 1973 The Maya Scribe and His World. Grolier Club, New York. p. 18.

Coe, Michael D. 1984 The Maya. 3rd ed. Ancient Peoples and Places. Thames and Hudson, New York. p. 117-118, fig. 96.

Coe, Michael D. 1987 The Maya. 4th fully rev. ed. Ancient Peoples and Places. Thames and Hudson, New York. p. 125-126, fig. 97.

Coe, Michael D. 1993 The Maya. 5th , fully rev. and expand ed. Ancient Peoples and Places. Thames and Hudson, New York. p. 124, 126, fig. 93.

Coe, Michael D. and Justin Kerr 1998 The Art of the Maya Scribe. Harry N. Abrams, New York. p. 91-92, 138-139, fig. 48, 101.

Gallenkamp, Charles 1985 Maya, the Riddle and Rediscovery of a Lost Civilization. 3rd rev. ed. Viking; Albuquerque Museum, New York. ill. 65.

Graham, John Allen 1971 A Maya Hieroglyph Incised on Shell. Contributions of the University of California Archaeological Research Facility, No. 13. University of California Department of Anthropology, Berkeley. p. 157.

Grana-Behrens, Daniel 2006 Emblem Glyphs and Political Organization in Northwestern Yucatan in the Classic Period (A.D. 300-1000). Ancient Mesoamerica 17 (1):105-124. p. 110-111, fig. 4b.

Herring, Adam 2005 Art and Writing in the Maya Cities, A.D. 600-800: A Poetics of Line. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. p. 109-110, fig. 49.

Kerr, Justin (ED.) 1992 The Maya Vase Book: A Corpus of Rollout Photographs of Maya Vases. 3. Kerr Associates, New York. p. 474, cat. K4340.

Kerr, Justin n.d. Maya Vase Data Base: An Archive of Rollout Photographs., URL: <>. cat. K4340.

Kubler, George 1977 Aspects of Classic Maya Rulership on Two Inscribed Vessels. Studies in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology; No. 18. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington. p. 5-13, fig. 1-4.

Lacadena García-Gallo, Alfonso 2000 Nominal Syntax and Linguistic Affiliation of Classic Maya Texts. In The Sacred and the Profane: Architecture and Identity in the Maya Lowlands, Pierre R. Colas, Kai Delvendahl, Marcus Kuhnert and Anette Schubart, eds., pp. 111-128. Acta Mesoamericana, 10. Verlag Anton Saurwein, Markt Schwaben. p. 122.

Luke, Christina 2008 Carving Luxury: Late Classic White Stone Vase Traditions in Mesoamerica In New Approaches to Old Stones : Recent Studies of Ground Stone Artifacts, Yorke M. Rowan and Jennie R. Ebeling, eds. Approaches to Anthropological Archaeology. Equinox, London. fig. 19.4.

Mason, J. Alden 1958 Pre-Columbian Art (Review Article of the 1957 Catalogue). Archaeology II (2). p. 124, cover.

Masuda, Yoshio 1981 Kodai Amerika No Isan. Shinch?sha Kodai Bijutsukan ; 14. Kabushiki Kaisha Shinch?sha, Tokyo. pl. 34.

Mora-Marín, David F. 2007 Alogographic Value Hu7 (~ 7u7) ‘to Blow’ or ‘Sacred, Moral, Power’ for the God.N Verbal Glyph of the Primary Standard Sequence. Wayeb Notes 27. p. 14, Table 3.

Nicholson, Irene 1967 Mexican and Central American Mythology. Hamlyn, London. p. 49.

Rowan, Yorke M. and Jennie R. Ebeling (EDS.) 2008 New Approaches to Old Stones: Recent Studies of Ground Stone Artifacts. Equinox, London. cover.

Schele, Linda n.d. The Linda Schele Photograph Collection. URL: <>.

Schmidt, Peter J., Mercedes de la Garza and Enrique Nalda 1998 The Maya. Rizzoli, New York. p. 66, 629, cat. 436.

Schmidt, Peter J., Mercedes de la Garza and Enrique Nalda 1999 Los Mayas. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México; CONACULTA; Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México, D.F., p. 66.

Sodi M, Demetrio, Beatrice Trueblood and Ignacio Bernal 1980 Los Mayas: El Tiempo Capturado. Bancomer, Mexico. p. 85.

Soustelle, Jacques 1967 Mexico. Archaeologia Mundi. Nagel, Geneva. p. 94, ill. 71.

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. 84-85, 121-129, pl. 11, fig. 65b, 66, 67.

Stone, Andrea and Marc Zender 2011 Reading Maya Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Maya Painting and Sculpture. Thames & Hudson, New York. p. 36-37, ill. 3.

Stuart, David (ED.) 2005 Sourceboook for the 29th Maya Hieroglyphic Forum, March 11-16, 2005. Department of Art and Art History, The University of Texas, Austin. p. 14.

Taube, Karl A. 2005 The Symbolism of Jade in Classic Maya Religion. Ancient Mesoamerica 16:23-50. fig. 14c

Von Winning, Hasso 1963 A Maya 'Old God' Effigy Bowl. The Masterkey 37 (2). p. 64.

Zender, Marc 2005 ‘Flaming Akbal’ and the Glyphic Representation of the Aj- Agentive Prefix. The PARI Journal 5 (3):8-10. p. 9.

Exhibition History
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, January 1956 to July 1962.

"I Maya", Palazzo Grassi, Venice, Italy, 9/6/1998 - 5/16/1999.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1954.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1954-1962.

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

Glyphs | Mayas | Serpents | Staffs