Chocholá ceramics and the polities of northwestern Yucatán

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Werness, Maline Diane

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Maya artists working in the northern Yucatán Peninsula c. 700-800 CE began creating a new ceramic style. Deeply carved and exhibiting complex iconography and hieroglyphic inscriptions, Chocholá ceramics have long been recognized as among the most beautiful items produced by ancient Maya craftsmen. Indeed, the Chocholá style can be associated with a number of firsts in Maya studies: the first published explorations, the first major art historical investigations of ceramics, the first attempts at ceramic seriation and the first translations of the dedicatory formula all include images of Chocholá pots. Many examples lack provenience, however, due to extensive looting and the corpus has been relegated to a shadowy corner of the Maya world as a result. With the aid of new archaeological information and advances in iconographic and epigraphic studies, I develop an interdisciplinary rubric for classifying Chocholá pieces. Additionally, I analyze vessel imagery and texts, thus deciphering ostensible meanings as well as identifying the kinds of messages elites were trying to project through ownership and exchange. As with other high-status commodities, these ceramics functioned as prestige items and facilitated regional alliances through gifting and feasting. An analysis of temporal setting illuminates the aesthetic innovation and traditionalism Chocholá patrons manipulated in order to legitimize their own standing in such contexts. My work results in a more refined picture of extended northern socio-political interaction and interconnection. I show that one extremely powerful site—Oxkintok, in the hilly Puuc region of Yucatán—produced such vessels and disseminated them south, west and northeast. In dialogue with Oxkintok's expanding sphere of political influence, stylistic variations also developed in these outlying regions. Ultimately, I use the confluence of data to reconstruct a more concrete system of intra-regional connection and interchange.




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