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Maya, Late Classic
800-900 CE
6.67 cm x 2.86 cm x 0.95 cm (2 5/8 in. x 1 1/8 in. x 3/8 in.)

Not on view


Biconically drilled through the long axis, this piece could have been worn as a pendant, with the creature’s back at the top and its head facing downward. The boring pierces through the frontal surface in the chest area behind the upper forelimb of the figure, creating an elliptical hole. In terms of Classic Maya lapidary arts, the style is quite unusual in a number of ways, especially the extensive use of large, hollow core drills to delineate not only the eye but also the ear, teeth, upper portions of the limbs against the torso, and the rear and tail. In addition, the mouth and limbs were pierced through, first by drilling and then string-sawing. The irregular outlines of this openwork indicate that many multiple drillings were employed rather than only a pair at the distal ends of a pierced length. Such lines of drill holes suggest that drilling was more efficient than string-sawing in the cutting of jade. Yet another striking feature of this style is the strongly angular cuts to define such areas as the mouth, head, and shoulders.

The creature depicted in this carving has a prominent cranial crest that indicates that it is probably the supernatural being called the Iguana Jaguar in Maya iconography, an iguana with such jaguar traits as feline ears. Oddly, the supernatural iguana is frequently portrayed as more monstrous and frightening than jaguars and even crocodiles.

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. 14, cat. LXV.

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. 230-233, pl. 34, fig. 132.

Exhibition History
"All Sides Considered: New Research on the Maya Collection:, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC, 09/08/2012 - 06/02/2013.

Acquisition History
Purchased from John Wise, New York (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1960.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1960-1962.

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

Animals | Bead | Mayas