Elaborately Decorated Plate

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Polychrome decorated pottery plate standing on four zoomorphic rattle type legs, small head at front lower rim. Interior decorated with a fineline painted standing chief, and long feathered panels under both arms. Surrounded with a geometric stepped border and a solid black outer border. Wide inner rim band of semiabstract zoomorphic creatures. Underside of plate decorated with painted geometric decoration. Areas of strong scattered mineral deposits.

The Maya Ulúa culture developed in the Ulúa Valley in what is now Honduras, 600 – 900 AD. This fertile alluvial valley was rich in flora and fauna and carved by rivers such as the Ulúa, the Comayagua, and the Chamelecón. These waterways acted as natural highways that connected the valley to southern and central Honduras.

In the colonial era and probably in pre-Hispanic times as well, the Ulúa Valley was one of the principal producers of cacao in all of Mesoamerica. Other resources such as seashells and other marine products were available on the north coast, while from the mountains this group obtained products as wide ranging as obsidian, jade and quetzal feathers.

Unlike other Mayan stone stelas, those made by the Ulua are devoid of hieroglyphic characters and portraits of noble figures. Ullua stelas are also the only ones found to date in Mesoamerica that were painted. The Maya Ulúa are known also for their finely finished polychromatic pottery, which is noticeably different from that of other Mayan groups, though it retains some typically Mayan elements. Although the complex polychromatic designs of this ceramic tradition suggest a ritual use, no polychrome vessel from this culture has been found in a burial context.

Little is known about the organization of Maya Ulúa society, but the architecture of their urban centers suggests that it was stratified from early on. These settlements contain large palaces and public buildings built of stone and surrounded by more modest dwellings made of lighter materials.

In regard to religious practices, we know very little about Maya Ulúa rituals and ceremonies, but the symbolism of the designs on their ceramic vessels is a variant of that of the lowland Mayas, suggesting that this group reworked Mayan symbolism to develop their own religious tradition.

The large civic centers found in the Ulúa Valley are from Late periods, and contain temples, pitches for playing team sports and other monumental structures, some with stone sculptures or other constructions. Most of the population, however, lived in small, relatively autonomous villages located close to the fields they farmed.

The earliest human occupations of the Ulúa Valley display a distinct Olmec influence, particularly in certain ceramic motifs. Later, they were strongly influenced by the Mayans who came from the highlands of Guatemala and established strong cultural ties with them, although they always maintained their own traditions. In the Late period, some Maya Ulúa elements such as marble vessels and polychromatic pottery spread throughout the Mayan world. Indeed, polychromatic ceramics extended over a much larger area to what is now El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

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