Mortuary Chocolate among the Ancient Maya: An Iconographic Analysis of the Exemplar from the Spouted Vessels of Colha
MetadataShow full item record
In this thesis, I investigate the iconography on a Preclassic spouted vessel (“chocolate pot”) from the Maya site of Colha, Belize. I begin by historically contextualizing the vessel’s form, which is generally believed to have been used to froth nonalcoholic chocolate drinks, and culturally contextualizing the ritual use of cacao, which appears in mortuary contexts because of its association with rebirth. I then discuss the association between chocolate drinks and gourd containers—an association that is mythologically based in early and contemporary Maya creation myths—which continues to bear out with the use of ceramic vessels that imitate gourds. Finally, I move on to the case study vessel, the iconography of which I break into three parts: the punctated band on the vessel’s shoulder, the quatrefoil extending from the punctated band, and the volutes extending from the lobes of the quatrefoil. I argue that the punctated band is an index of gourd skeumorphy, as the incising visually corresponds to a recent decipherment for gourd in the Classic Mayan hieroglyphs. The quatrefoil and volutes together represent an animated flower or cave mouth, or perhaps both, given that one represents life, and the other, supernatural communication with ancestors and deities. After discussing these parts discretely, I discuss how they function as a single unit. The punctated band opens toward the spout, highlighting the rituality of the act of blowing into the vessel to produce froth. By doing so, the preparer breathed life into the drink so the drink might give new life to the partaking deceased. At the same time, the preparer’s breath animated the vessel’s iconography, activating its invocation to link the realms of the living and the supernatural and allowing the deceased to be born again into the world of the ancestors.