Description & Technical information
Ceremonial hacha representing a human head wearing a helmet or a headdress in the shape of
a scarlet macaw head.
Both sides are identically carved.
The face of the individual is masterfully rendered in a deep and well balanced carving. Facial
features were elegantly reproduced by the combination of exquisitely detailed volumes. The
mouth is slightly open with full and fleshy lips while the nose wings are delicately carved.
The cheeks are deeply contoured as well as the bulging forehead above triangular-shaped
eyes. Circular earflares signal the status of the individual as a member of the elite.
The upper part of the sculpture represents a scarlet macaw head. Two concentric sets of short
feathers above a strong orbital plate surround the typical round eye of the bird. The upper
mandibule of an angular beak is left bare while the nostrils are accented by an annular bead.
Thin incised contour lines highlight the pupil of the eye, the edge of the upper mandibule and
the lower strap of the helmet.
The bottom rear of the hacha shows a projecting tenon that would have secured it to a
ballgame yoke. Hachas, probably carved in wood, were attached to yokes, a belt-like
implement to be worn during the Mesoamerican ballgame or related ritual ceremonies. Stone
versions like this one were probably destined to be used in monumental art settings such as
ballcourt markers or displayed in building reserved for players.
In the corpus of hachas, scarlet macaws are a subject frequently depicted where they are often
combined with the head of an individual. The human head either emerges from the bird’s
beak or wears the bird’s head as a helmet or a headdress. The motif of a scarlet macaw
suggests a mythical episode described in the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the K’iché people.
It recounts a fight between Hunahpu, one of the hero twins, and Vucub Caquix (Seven
Macaw), a supernatural bird pretending to be the sun. The outcome of the fight sees the bird
wrenching out the arm of Hunahpu. This episode has a very ancient origin and is known from
several monuments and other medium. A more complete depiction of this episode appears on
another hacha where the bird head, a human head and a severed arm are all combined
Known for its flamboyant plumage of red, yellow and blue colors, the scarlet macaw (Ara
macao) was one of Mesoamerica most iconic birds. Its feathers as well as the bird itself were
widely traded and even locally bred as far as the American Southwest where Mimbres pottery
have retained its likeness.
This juxtaposition is a strong argument for suggesting that hachas depicting the scarlet macaw
alone or in a combination with a human head are all related to the epic mentioned above.
This hacha is remarkable by the quality of its workmanship as well by its state of
preservation. It is also a brilliant testament to the mastery of the Maya sculptor who designed
and carved it.
Date: 600 – 900 A.D.
Period: Middle Ages
Origin: Mexico, Guatemala
Medium: Grey-beige andesite with brown patina
Dimensions: 31 x 26.5 x 9.8 cm (12¹/₄ x 10³/₈ x 3⁷/₈ inches)
Provenance: Ancient American collection since 1968.
Categories: Tribal Art
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Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican and South American
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