Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice


    Pectoral Depicting Two Enthroned Deities
    A.D. 700 - 800
    Height 4 1/4 in. Width 3 7/8 in.

    Commentary on a Late Classic Maya Jade Plaque by Stanley Paul Guenter

    This carved jade has previously been commented upon by Robert Sonin and Dieter Dütting. Stylistically, both in regards to the figural scene on the front and the inscription on the reverse, the carving dates to the latter part of the Late Classic period, almost certainly to the eighth century A.D. The carving on the face of the object depicts two Maya individuals in profile, facing each other. Each figure is seated upon a throne. The left hand figure sits on a throne upon which are carved two human faces shown frontally. From each of the heads hang four long rectangular shapes, possibly portraying the celts that often hung from belt heads in typical Maya royal costume. The right hand figure sits atop a witz monster, emblem of stone and mountains. The witz monster faces to the left, and is distinguished by a lack of a lower jaw, very large eye, and a broad upper part of the head marked by a number of engraved circles. Between the two throne supports kneels a hunchbacked dwarf, the common companion of the Maize god or of Maya kings impersonating this deity.
    The figure to the left is actually the Maize God himself, identified by the corn foliage that sprouts from his head and droops both behind his head and in front of his face. The figure holds his left hand elegantly over his chest, while his right hand rests comfortably on his thigh. This gesture has been identified as one expressed by the focal person in scenes on Maya pottery vessels (Patricia Ancona-Ha, Jorge Pérez de Lara, and Mark Van Stone, "Some Observations on Hand Gestures in Maya Art" in The Maya Vase Book Volume 6, pp. 1072-1089, edited by Barbara and Justin Kerr. New York: Kerr Associates, 2000). This Maize God faces and leans toward the figure on the right, who can be identified as the Chocolate God by virtue of the cacao pods that hang from the strands of his hair. This Chocolate God rests his left hand on his own thigh while raising his right hand, palm outstretched, toward the Maize God in a gesture that has been interpreted as a greeting (ibid: 1080).

    Our knowledge of the Chocolate God has increased considerably over the last few years and this jade plaque adds to that knowledge in a significant way. The iconography of the Maize and Chocolate Gods overlaps considerably, which is understandable in that cacao pods and maize cobs, unlike most vegetables, grow directly off the plant stalk or tree trunk. Corn kernels and cacao beans grow in rows very similar to each other and, as scholar Simon Martin has noted, these plants and their associated gods are intimately related. This led Martin and associate Mary Miller (Mary Miller and Simon Martin, p.63, Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2004) to propose that the Chocolate God could have either been an aspect of the Maize God or possibly his brother, not enough evidence existing to favor one or the other of these possibilities. This jade plaque, portraying both of these gods interacting, thus provides unique and strong evidence suggesting that the Maize and Chocolate Gods were separate entities, possibly brothers as Miller and Martin have suggested, and not merely aspects of the same deity.
    The back of this jade plaque carries a short three hieroglyph inscription. This inscription was first analyzed by Dieter Dütting (Hasso von Winning, The John-Platt Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Art Museum,1986, catalogue no. 166), but advances in the decipherment of ancient Maya texts which have occurred since then make a reanalysis necessary. These hieroglyphs, following Dütting's original analysis, will be designated A, B, and C. In the following table the first column provides the "T numbers" for identifying Maya hieroglyphs first proposed by J. Eric S. Thompson (J. Eric S.Thompson. A Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphs. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962). The second column provides a phonetic transcription of each of these signs.
    Below follow a transcription and transliteration of the text.

    Table 1
    Hieroglyph T# Phonetic Value
    A 61.534.2 yu-la-li
    B 204.102.1000b u-ki-na
    C 12.99.502,142 AJ-o-ma-ma

    Transliteration: y-ulaal ukiin aj-omam
    Translation: "the ulaal of Ukiin, He of Oman".

    This short text, as with many similar Maya texts, appears to be a "nametag", identifying the object upon which it was inscribed as belonging to a specific individual, The initial y- is the ergative possessive in Maya language, and the possessed object is said to be an ulaal, a word that is otherwise unattested in Classic Maya inscriptions. This word cannot be identified in Maya dictionaries and appears to have disappeared from modern Maya languages. However, by way of comparison with similar nametag texts the ulaal should refer to this jade plaque or the category of object (e.g.: pectoral, jewel, jade object, etc.) to which it belongs.
    This ulaal belonged to an individual whose name and title appear in the next two hieroglyphs, Glyphs B and C. The personal name of the individual appears in Glyph B, which is phonetically spelled out as Ukiin. His title follows in Glyph C, and reads Aj Omam, or "He of Omam", where Omam is most likely a toponym, or name of the ancient Maya site where Ukiin came from. Unfortunately, this is the only reference to Omam in the corpus of Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions and so the whereabouts of this site remain unknown. The style of the hieroglyphs and carving suggest that wherever Omam was located, it was somewhere within the Southern Maya Lowlands, which cover the modern country of Belize, the Petén district of Guatemala, eastern Tabasco and Chiapas states and southern Campeche and Quintana Roo states in Mexico.
    It can thus be seen that this jade plaque bears an important image and text that help reveal the relationship of two primary Maya deities, as well as providing unique references to an otherwise unrecorded type of object (ulaal) and an otherwise unrecorded individual (Ukiin) from an otherwise unrecorded ancient Maya site (Omam).

    Ancona-Ha, Particia, Jorge Pérez de Lara, and Mark Van Stone. "Some Observations on Hand Gestures in Maya Art." in The Maya Vase Book Volume 6, edited by Barbara and Justin Kerr. pp.1072-1089, New York: Kerr Associates, 2000.
    Miller, Mary, and Simon Martin. Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2004.
    Thompson, J. Eric S. A Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphs. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962.
    Von Winning, Hasso. The John-Platt Collection of Pre-Columbian Art. Charlottesville, Virginia: University of Virginia Art Museum, 1986.

    A number of areas have been drilled in different ways. The most remarkable is a filament-thin drilled passage horizontally across the entire upper pectoral approximately one inch below the top. Clearly visible across the top is a deep horizontal slot, possibly remaining from a previous suspension channel when the pectoral slab was thicker. The edges of this slot have been softened with polishing. Inside this slot two small holes are drilled through from front to back a short distance from either end. Across the bottom three evenly-spaced fine drillings were started but were never completed all the way through the jadeite. At the lower proper left side one minute hole goes through and at the proper right two pass through. From the back it can be seen that two more side drills were started near the bottom but were not completed. The condition is excellent.

    The lot is sold with copies of all supporting documentation.

    John-Platt Collection (Daniel M. Friedenberg)
    Sotheby's, New York: sale 7902, 15 May 2003, lot 252, p.173

    Von Winning, Hasso, The John-Platt Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Charlottesville: The University of Virginia Art Museum, 1986. Ill. title page (in color); p.84, fig.166; ill. p.25 (drawing of glyphs on back)

    Condition Report*: Condition report available upon request.
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. Heritage does not guarantee the condition of frames and shall not be liable for any damage/scratches to frames, glass/acrylic coverings, original boxes, display accessories, or art that has slipped in frames. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    September, 2006
    29th Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 14
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 9,005

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    19.5% of the successful bid (minimum $9) per lot.

    Shipping, Taxes, Terms and Bidding
    This item cannot be shipped using standard methods. Please contact us for more information. Sales Tax information

    Important information concerning Sales Tax and Resale Certificates. Learn More

    Terms and Conditions  |  Bidding Guidelines and Bid Increments |  Glossary of Terms

    Sold on Sep 29, 2006 for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)
    Track Item

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Only 23 days left to consign to the 2022 January 27 Design Signature® Auction !

    Learn about consigning with us

    In my estimation Taylor exemplified professionalism and in that respect clearly added value to Heritage Auctions as their representative.
    Robert B.,
    Philadelphia, PA
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search