Jade portrait head inscribed with glyphs


British Museum

British Museum

This Maya head was carved from a single block of jade. The eyes were probably inlaid originally, with shell or other materials. Representations in ceramics, mural paintings, stone and other media suggest that such heads were mounted on a belt worn by Maya rulers. They were made of jade, shell, obsidian or other stone and was set above a group of three flat celts (axe-heads).

A series of glyphs, arranged in three columns, are carved at the back of the head, and two on top. Although they are partly eroded and the dates are illegible, the glyphs provide surprising information about its origin.

A passage of the text refers to a person related to the Maya city of Palenque. We know that the mother of Yax Pac, the sixteenth ruler of Copán (AD 763-810), was from Palenque. It is likely that this head came with her as a prized heirloom. During the eighth century, the Comayagua region was linked to Copán; it is possible that the jade head made its way there as gift to a local lord or as a piece looted at a later date.

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  • Title: Jade portrait head inscribed with glyphs
  • Date Created: 600/800
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 14.80cm; Width: 10.00cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Registration number: Am.9599
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Mexico
  • Period/culture: Late Classic Maya
  • Other information: Cultural rights may apply.
  • Material: stone
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Donated by Franks, Augustus Wollaston. Collected by Tappenden, F T
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