Chocholá vase

This vase decorated with grooves belongs to a style of pottery for the elite in the northwest of the Yucatán Peninsula. It was produced in the 8th century AD and is known by specialists as Chocholá type pottery. Fragments and complete examples have been found is places such as Acanceh, Calcehtok, Chocholá, Dzibilchaltún, Jaina, Maxcanú, Oxkintok, Peto, Sotuta, Ticul, Uxmal and Xcalumkin. It is a style of pottery recipient which is covered by a grey or brown engobe of different tones, and is decorated by the technique of incising before firing.

It is a jaay or clay bowl whose external walls are worked with grooving. A band of hieroglyphs fall vertically down the central zone of the body of the bowl. This contains information about the rites for which the bowl was used, the very form of the bowl, the contents for which it was designed (usually to hold atole or cocoa) and also the name of the owner or user of the object.

Mayan cylindrical vases provide us with an inexhaustible source of information about Mayan culture. They are exceptional objects where the Maya peoples managed to capture and express their collective imagination. The pieces tell us of the history and life of the elite, but are also an important element for us to learn about the mythology. Both the images of the gods as well as the myths, are frequently accompanied by glyphs which indicate the name of the god or person and define what the activity is which is represented. Sometimes other types of inscriptions appear on Mayan vases, known as dedicatory inscriptions, which indicate the identity of the person who has paid for the production of the piece, as well as the purpose for which it was produced and, in some cases, the name of the artisan. In this manner, we know what form of vessel was used to hold which liquid: concave and cylindrical containers were meant to store drinks – above all, chocolate - to be consumed during the festivals by the privileged classes. These recipients of great value were given as gifts or interchanged between the guests at a feast.

Although the pieces are of funerary origin, the great majority of them were made to be used during the lifetime of a person. It was common that these same pieces, or similar ones, were later placed in tombs as funerary goods. All these pieces were modelled, as this culture did not develop the method of throwing clay on a potter’s wheel. The colours of the pieces were always produced by the use of slip, a watery mixture of clays and other minerals. The vessels were fired at a low temperature, approximately 800 º C.

In the Classical period, the artists worked in an easier manner through the use of incision of the still moist clay, so that what was produced after firing was a type of pottery with a decoration similar to what can be seen in low reliefs on monuments. When they decorated with polychrome colouring, they usually did so in the same way as they painted walls. That is, they painted cold over plaster or stucco, covering the piece according to a method that seems not to have originated in the Mayan zone, but rather in Teotihuacan. In the Early Classical period, the decoration was painted using slips or barbotine applied before firing. The colours of these vessels are extremely vivid, while some others, those know as Codex-style, show simple black lines on a white background.

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