Notes from the Cenote

While at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, we saw some very special materials made of metal related to our catalog efforts: the offerings in the Cenote of Sacrifice from Chichen Itza, recovered in the early 20th century (Lothrop 1952; see Coggins 1992).

We spent quality time with gold disks, especially the meticulous drawing of Disk G, done by Tatiana Proskouriakoff (see Finamore and Houston 2010:196-197). This scene depicts a naval battle in which one group of people in a canoe apparently attack another group on three rafts. One interesting detail is that the lone rafter on the viewer’s left wears a circular disk pendant, perhaps one of gold similar to the object on which it was depicted. Lothrop (1952:107) noted that the gold originated in Panama but, in the case of the embossed disks, had been reworked in Mayaland.

Many other pieces from the cenote gold were manufactured in Costa Rica, Panama, or Colombia. Some examples include:

  • Several frog pendants, such as this one (10-71-20/C7710).
  • Turtle pendants, such as this one (10-71-20/C7711A).
  • Anthropomorphic figures, like this one (10-71-20/C7702).
  • This is a “Darien Style” pendant, probably from Colombia (10-73-20/C7725).
  • Last, but certainly not least, several monkey friends! This one (10-71-20/C7713) and this one (10-73-20/C7734) are  similar to Dumbarton Oaks pieces PC.B.331, PC.B.332, and PC.B.333:
Monkey pendants, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

Although, as Lothrop (1952:103) noted, all but one of the cenote monkeys were bells, whereas the Dumbarton Oaks specimens are solid, open-backed casts.

The implication of these gold objects in the northern Yucatan is obviously that trade for metal objects manufactured very far south was very active and meaningful for the Maya residents of Chichen Itza.

Coggins, Clemency C. (ed.). 1992. Artifacts from the Cenote of Sacrifice, Chichen Itza, Yucatan. Cambridge, Peabody Museum.

Finamore, Daniel, and Stephen Houston (eds.). 2010. Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea. New Haven, Yale University Press.

Lothrop, Samuel K. (ed.). 1952. Metals from the Cenote of Sacrifice at Chichen Itza, Yucatan. Memoirs of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Vol. X. No. 2. Cambridge, Peabody Museum.

One thought on “Notes from the Cenote

  1. I am delighted to read of the Dumbarton Oaks project to recognize the Intermediate Area and it importance. Will this include art from the Antilles? This part the area produced some of the most incredible pre-Columbian art of the subject region. Granted many of the pieces are in private collections, there are those of our ilk who would be willing to share our acquisitions. Nevertheless I realize your research is limited to the in house collections of the “Oaks” but feel a complete picture of the Intermediate Area is incomplete without the recognition of the masterworks produced by the Taino, Saladoid, Heucoid, et al. Thanks for sharing your wonderful collection and promoting good stewardship of pre Columbian art.

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