Pre-Columbian

Maskette

Artist: Unknown

Culture/People: Mayan (attrib.)

Place: Mexico, South America

Media: Jade

Dims: 0.875 x 0.5 in. (2.2 x 1.27 cm).

Date: c.600-1500

Description: Blue lagoons. Starry cosmos. Crisp forest air.  Foggy mornings. Agriculture. Art. All was the world of the ancient civilizations in the Mesoamerican lands, such as the Olmec (1500 BC-400 BC) and Maya (900 BC-900 AC). Although there is very little information about the origin of this brightly colored green jade maskette and from what time period it may have come, Coe knew the origins of its lands and the mask carved upon it.

The Mesoamerican Jade Project of Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (1977-2000) led to the discovery of the Olmec Blue jade mines around the Central Motagua Valley in Guatemala, where ancient Maya lode mines were also discovered. They grew to learn that jade was an emblematic stone of the Olmec and Mayan peoples—essential to the person’s beauty, intelligence, spirit, and transformation. The greener the jade, the more valuable.

In what is today Central America were the homelands of Mesoamerican civilizations where much knowledge was transferred to future generations. Knowledge systems linked to astrology and cosmos, artisanry, art and music, medicinal plants, and the power of healing are all based on the relationship these societies had with their deities and spirit world. They were also linked to the material intelligence of the earth in a seemingly constant dance-relationship system of knowledge intertwining and evolving through the person’s life journey. Whereas jade elements were discovered to have served as useful utilitarian purposes such as chiseling or carving tools. Indeed archeological evidence demonstrates that ancient Mesoamerican societies used jade for ceremonial and ritual purposes, as well as for decorative and artistic ones such as for jewelry among the elite to connect with their gods. In other words, jade was highly cherished in these societies and was vital in life.

Before the arrival of the Spanish, only a little over 500 years ago, these Mesoamerican societies lived an entrenched existence with nature and the cosmos, mostly because of the different key figures that existed amongst their clans—the sacred knowledge holders, who were able to channel information from their deities. A jade pendant or necklace was an essential communications tool for ranking, as a way to transmit abundance or status, and used for economic exchange and trade. Jade was also an important element connecting the parallel world of the spirit and eternal life. In death, jade was often buried with the deceased, placed on their mouth to guarantee them a path towards the Maize god in Xibalba, and rebirthed again. This jade stone, for instance, may have been a precious symbol that represented a specific figurehead, family clan, or place of origin and placed with them in their burial rite.

In life, to be entirely conscious of these existing worlds, of the spirit and the material at the same time, was key to developing the full individual. In these times of living in symbiosis in their Earth journey—with its turquoise sea waters, tropical fruits, and healing plants and depending on their life on earth and how their spirit transcended—all living beings in death transferred to a cosmos journey linked to the underworld, the night, and their deities. And perhaps this precious stone was a token to the see-er, the seeker, to the eye of the beholder, of the interwoven representation that existed in this fully living planet, and their relationship to the earth, sun, moon, stars, and the afterlife.

—Alison Guzman

 

Sources:
Dockrill, Peter. “An Ancient Maya Tool Made out of an Unexpected Material Has Been Found in a Salt Mine.” ScienceAlert, https://www.sciencealert.com/stunning-jadeite-blade-used-by-the-ancient-maya-discovered-in-unexpected-place.

“Find of OLMEC Blue Jadeite, Río EL Tambor.” Wondermondo, 19 Aug. 2021, https://www.wondermondo.com/find-of-olmec-blue-jadeite/.

Guy, Jack. “How Jade Became More Valuable than Gold in Mayan Culture.” Culture Trip, The Culture Trip, 17 Mar. 2018, https://theculturetrip.com/central-america/guatemala/articles/how-jade-became-more-valuable-than-gold-in-mayan-culture/.

“Jade in Mesoamerica.” Metmuseum.org, https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/jade2/hd_jade2.htm.

Mark, Joshua J. “The Mayan Pantheon: The Many Gods of the Maya.” World History Encyclopedia, World History Encyclopedia, 25 Sept. 2021, https://www.worldhistory.org/article/415/the-mayan-pantheon-the-many-gods-of-the-maya/.

“Maya Pendant 7th-5th Century B.C.” Metmuseum.org, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/310513.

Taube, Karl A. “The Symbolism of Jade in Classic Maya Religion: Ancient Mesoamerica.” Cambridge Core, Cambridge University Press, 19 July 2005, https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/ancient-mesoamerica/article/abs/symbolism-of-jade-in-classic-maya-religion/63F3CD8883DE47DEE7417FFDBE4CB926.

 

RTC No: PC0007
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011

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