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Arquitectura y Arqueología

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Paul Gendrop

A study of carved columns associated with Puuc architecture, a progress report

Lawrence Mills

Texte intégral

1En la mitad occidental del área Puuc, durante el período clásico tardío, los escultores empezaron a añadir una decoración en relieve a las columnas tan características de la arquitectura Puuc. Algunas de éstas llegaron a ser muy elaboradas, mientras que otras permanecieron simples. Unas emplearon inscripciones glíficas; otras fueron de carácter figurativo; un grupo determinado de estas últimas trató incluso las figuras casi como cariátides.

2Por el momento no parece existir, a este nivel del estudio, un patrón en la distribución de estos diversos tipos. Y si las cualidades formales de dichas columnas pueden ser captadas sin dificultad, los problemas residen principalmente en el análisis de su contenido, y mucho queda por hacer en cuanto a su iconografía cuyo estudio reviste interesantes aspectos.

  • 1 All of the columns are approximately round in section with the exception of the outstanding square (...)
  • 1 Mayer 1981.

3This study has been underway for the past seven years, commencing with the study of a column in the Ermita gardens in Mérida (fig. 1). With each succeeding season in northern Yucatán, more such columns have been brought to light. They fall within a height variation of 183 cm. and 116 cm. and 62-42 cm. in width.1 As yet there appears no reasonable typology although many have their very similar counterparts and at least three seem to be the work of one sculptor or his shop. It is evident that some utilize only glyphic decoration; some the human figure; some have both. Some are carved in very low relief while some are treated almost as caryatids. Most are monolithic; one is made up of at least three drums and may have been segmented by looters, as have many. There are 84 columns included in my catalog. Mayer1 claims to have studied more than ninety examples; he includes two from Cozumel which are not associated with Puuc architecture. Of the eighty-four, only 11 are documented as having been found in situ, from Xcalumkín, Dsecilná, Oxkintok, Sayil, Xcochkax.

1. Column from Sta. María Tzemé Kinchil. Situated in the garden of la Ermita Santa Isabel in Mérida, this column was either originally carved on three drums or cut into three segments later. It is unusual in that the carving runs completely around the surface. View a represents a rollout drawing of the column as it is presently assembled. At the time the drawing was made the lack of continuity of the carving was pointed out to several people, including Joe Ball who participated in this conference. His observation was that perhaps the workmen had not reassembled the parts in their correct order. View b represents a reassembling of the column drums, reversing the middle drum. Unfortunately the cut between the top and middle drum destroys the face of the halach uinic. But his costume is similar to some worn by figures on a lintel at Oxkintok, as is the bolsa which he carries. It is also rather ingenious how the sculptor has designed the headdress so that the feathers bend around the natural hole in the limestone.

2. Distributional map of the carved columns.

3. An attempt at an esthetic evaluation of the columns and their distribution.

4Those from Xcalumkín are glyphic columns, with one exception. Of the 84, 1 am able to chart the provenance of just fifty and several of these are very questionable. Presently, on stylistic grounds, I am able to distinguish ten different types.

  • 2 Pollock 1980.

5The distribution map (fig. 2), as inaccurate as it admittedly is, includes roughly the western half of Pollock’s2 map of Puuc sites. The columns seem to be limited to the western range of the Puuc hills and the adjacent plain. The attribution of a fine column to Yaxcabalcal seems to be questionable. Xcoralché and Xcorralché are both listed on the INAH Campeche Atlas. I believe the one to the north near Hecelchakán perhaps is more accurate. Pollock seems to have been of the same opinion. Perhaps the same can be said for the location of Dzitbalché; the location near Calkiní may be more correct, although the Peabody photos specify Dzitbalché San Pedro and this more southern location occurs on the map. These corrections would confine all of the columns to an area north of Champotón, south of Mérida and west of Sayil.

6An attempt to grade the columns esthetically was made (see fig. 3). Subjective as is all such grading, it was felt that if a significant number of ‘A’ columns clustered in one area this might be the nucleus of the carved column movement. Fig. 3 charts the distribution of the A, B, and C columns. It is evident that there is no such nucleus. Several observations should be made. First, five of the finest A columns have known provenance. Second, some columns have either eroded or have been vandalized to such an extent that an evaluation is unfair if not impossible. Third, certain sites produced columns of all three grades. Finally, the hipothesis that the finest work was done in the area in which the idea originated may not be valid. In spite of these qualifications, the exercize of charting these columns seems worthwhile.

7Criteria for making the judgement were: craftsmanship; proportions of the figures; lack of rigidity in the figures; composition in adapting the figure to the column.

8Three of the finest carvings present several exasperating problems. They are the columns in the Museum of Primitive Art, the Worcester Museum of Fine Arts, and the Museum für Völkerkunde in Berlin (see fig. 4). The curators of both the Museum of Primitive Art and the Worcester Museum of Fine Arts have given me the name of the dealer from whom their columns were purchased, but he does not respond to my requests for information concerning their provenance. The Berlin records are much more fruitful. Mayer says:

“In 1881, the Museum für Völkerkunde in Berlin aquired an extensive and important archaeological collection of the Spanish merchant Florentino Jimeno, who had assembled it during a three-decade sojourn in the city of Campeche, Mexico. The various archaeological objects came predominantly from the Maya area and include larger stone sculptures, such as an excellently preserved carved stone column... and also four fragments from columns. In Jimeno’s hand written catalogues (1869, 1872), which are preserved in the archives of the museum in Berlin, the provenance of the items is noted in only a few instances; no columns are listed and consequently no provenance is recorded. Morley (1937-1938, Vol. IV:419) designated the complete column (Berlin Column 1; Museum Catalogue No. IV Ca 6135) as a stela and stated as place of origin ‘Campeche?’. Walter Krickeberg (1950:11) and Dieter Eislab (1974:35) vaguely stated ‘Yucatán’; this presumably indicates the Yucatán Peninsula and not the present mexican state of the same name. Krickeberg (1950:27) took an interest in finding out the origin of the monuments and mentioned briefly the ‘larger stone monuments from the Jimeno Collection which came from China, Yaxcab, and Champotón, three sites in the vicinity of the city of Campeche...”

4. Berlin column from the Museum für Völkerkunde (roll-out drawing) depicting a frontal figure wearing a giant serpent costume, carrying a weapon (?) in the right hand and a shield in the left. He is flanked by two dwarf figures. The Worcester Museum column is quite similar although less damaged. The Museum of Primitive Art column is also very similar in costume and composition but has only one dwarf figure, on the halach uinic’s left. That dwarf has a hunch back and does not have the achondroplastic proportions.

9Not necessarily from the same site, these three columns are probably from the same shop. Mayer goes on to say that four column fragments in Berlin evidence a very similar carving (these have not been used in my catalog). Incidentally the Berlin column is the largest of the presently known columns.

5. Xtablakal. Roll out drawing of the reassembled segments of the column. Seems to represent a dancing(?) figure on a god’s head in a bacab-like pose although his left arm is indistinct. It is interesting that the figure is not carved to the same elevation on the column as are the glyphs. There appears to be a bird on a branch under this figure’s upraised right arm. The god’s head to the right of this drawing is taken from the column of similar composition with the dancing jaguar. David Kelley has examined the drawing and says that he doesn’t recognize any of the glyphic compounds, but that the reversal glyph at B7... “may have some sort of astronomical reference”. He further suggests that these glyphs might be ritual or ritual-historical.

10Two columns present an interesting style variation with panels of glyphs on opposite sides, an emaciated figure dancing on a god’s head, and in one case an animated feline, drawn with a double line, dancing on a head glyph. Both columns had been cut into pieces by looters. The larger column is in a private collection in Merida. The museum in Mérida had only three segments of the other column for many years. In 1982 the other two segments of this column were discovered at Xtablakal, a small site north of Xul in the southern “point” of Yucatan between Kabáh and Chacmultún. I have reassembled the segments via a roll-out drawing with a comparison of the god’s heads of the two columns (fig. 5). This column does not have a counter part to the dancing feline of the first column.

  • 3 Mayer 1981.

11There is little to be added to the chronology at this time. Proskouriakoff (1950:166) dates the Temple of the Inscriptions at Xcalumkin at about 9.16.0.0.0. or A.D 751. Mayer3 quotes Thompson as reading the dates of A.D 771 on column 2 at Xcalumkin. It seems likely that the carved columns were a late Classic phenomenon.

12The iconography of the carving is perhaps the most interesting albeit most frustrating aspect of the study. Almost certainly there is much included in the carving which escapes us completely. But several representations occur often enough to suggest a common understanding in this area.

  • 2 Dr. Gerald Solomons, a pediatrician from the University of Iowa, who spent a sabbatical working wi (...)

13Dwarfs. Representations of the achondroplastic dwarf are seen throughout the Mayan area. There seems little doubt that we are seeing this specific mutation, with a normal trunk, short arms and legs, a prominent jaw. Although present day Maya seem not to distinguish between any short person (ciiz lu’um) and the achondroplastic, surely the Classic Maya sculptor made that distinction. This diminutive person may be hunch-backed, in which case he does not have the achondroplastic proportions.2

14The Fat God. This ubiquitous character occurs over much of Mesoamerica. Bulbous cheeks, heavy drooping eyelids identify his head. Often he wears a textured costume that has been called quilted armor or feathers (Proskouriakoff [1951] referred to these as “bird figures”.) He may also wear a human hand hanging around his neck. At both Oxkintok (see fig. 6) and Dsecilná he carries a five pointed star, on a short handle, under his arm and may therefore be associated with Venus. His proportions may or may not be achondroplastic. He may be represented as a large figure, except when shown in company with a normal person. His identification and attributes are an intriguing problem. He was very popular in the area of the columns, not only on the columns but as a figurine, ocarina, atlantean figure, etc.

15Dancing Figures. The representation of the human figure with a foot raised, sometimes dramatically but more often delicately, occurs with considerable frequency in the area of the columns. He appears on the columns of course, but also on jambs, lintels, and stelae. Without statistical evidence to present, it is my impression that the representation of the dance is more prominent in this zone than elsewhere in the Mayan area.

16Rabbit Ears. David Kelley refers to columns at Santa Bárbara and Dsecilná:

  • 4 Kelley 1982.

“Two interesting but undated monuments show rulers wearing rabbit headdress... One is from Hacienda Paraíso and the other is of unknown provenance (now in the Mérida Museum). It is tempting to regard the headdresses as name-headdresses and to think that these are representations of two individuals named Yax T’ul, “Great Rabbit”. One might even be the ruler of Chichen Itza who is also specified as ruler of nine cities.”4

17For whatever reason, rabbit ear headdresses occur in several cases on the columns. I know of no other sculptural form, stela, lintel, etc. in which figures wear such headdresses. I count four quite obvious examples, and each is on a prominently carved column, although one in the Ermita gardens is surely of a “C” quality.

18Figure standing on a Head. The Dancing Jaguar column has already been noted and the façt that the feline dances on a head. Two quite different columns, from Xculoc, more rigid and of shallower relief, depict human figures standing on similar heads in profile. A few words should be said about figures which stand on a head with large circular eyes staring directly ahead. I know of only four examples: one from Dsecilná (noted by Kelley above) and one from Xcochkax, two from San Pedro Dzitbalché. Not a large sample but major monuments in all cases. Of course there are many examples of the halach uinic standing on crouching or prone figures in Classic stelae.

19Maracas and Manikin Scepters. Five figures brandish an object looking like a maraca, a sphere on a short handle. On the other hand, only two figures seem to display a manikin scepter. The whole subject of costume and accoutrements as represented on the columns remains to be studied more thoroughly.

20Conclusion. This preliminary report presents a few of the many distributional, chronological and iconological problems associated with the study of the late Puuc carved columns. For whatever reason, this phenomenon didn’t spread over a very large area, as the use of columns in architecture did. Some additional information may be gleaned from the provenance of some of the columns. Likewise some finer chronological boundaries may be drawn. But, the most productive area of study seems to be the iconography.

21A word about the drawings: the amount of modelling in the drawings is an attempt to convey the depth of the carving. Defaced areas have been left blank.

6. Fat God. This column from Oxkintok is perhaps the largest representation of this popular character. It was photographed with its adjacent column figure in situ in the early 1930’s. Presently he is one of the more prominent figures in the Maya exhibition in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Sadly he has been cut into smaller pieces and the back of the column has been hollowed out.

Bibliographie

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

INAH
1960
Atlas arqueológico de ta República Mexicana 2. Campeche. INAH, México.

KELLEY, David H.
1979
Notes on Puuc Inscriptions and History; in: The Puuc: New Perspectives, Central College, Pella, Iowa.

MAYER, Karl Herbert
1981
Classic Maya Relief Columns. Acoma Books, Ramona.

POLLOCK, Harry E. D.
1980
The Puuc; Memoirs of the Peabody Museum 19, Cambridge.

PROSKOURIAKOFF, Tatiana.
1950
A Study of Classic Maya Sculpture; Carnegie Institution of Washington Pub. 593, Washington, D.C.
1951
Some Non-Classic Traits in the Sculpture of Yucatan; in: The Civilizations of Ancient America, ed. S. Tax. Selected Papers of the 29th International Congress of Americanists, Chicago.

Notes

1 Mayer 1981.

2 Pollock 1980.

3 Mayer 1981.

4 Kelley 1982.

Notes de fin

1 All of the columns are approximately round in section with the exception of the outstanding square column in the Hecelchakán Museum.

2 Dr. Gerald Solomons, a pediatrician from the University of Iowa, who spent a sabbatical working with Mayan children in northern Yucatan, saw no achondroplastic Maya children during his year there.

Table des illustrations

Légende 1. Column from Sta. María Tzemé Kinchil. Situated in the garden of la Ermita Santa Isabel in Mérida, this column was either originally carved on three drums or cut into three segments later. It is unusual in that the carving runs completely around the surface. View a represents a rollout drawing of the column as it is presently assembled. At the time the drawing was made the lack of continuity of the carving was pointed out to several people, including Joe Ball who participated in this conference. His observation was that perhaps the workmen had not reassembled the parts in their correct order. View b represents a reassembling of the column drums, reversing the middle drum. Unfortunately the cut between the top and middle drum destroys the face of the halach uinic. But his costume is similar to some worn by figures on a lintel at Oxkintok, as is the bolsa which he carries. It is also rather ingenious how the sculptor has designed the headdress so that the feathers bend around the natural hole in the limestone.
URL http://books.openedition.org/cemca/docannexe/image/6069/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 103k
Légende 2. Distributional map of the carved columns.
URL http://books.openedition.org/cemca/docannexe/image/6069/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 57k
Légende 3. An attempt at an esthetic evaluation of the columns and their distribution.
URL http://books.openedition.org/cemca/docannexe/image/6069/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 317k
Légende 4. Berlin column from the Museum für Völkerkunde (roll-out drawing) depicting a frontal figure wearing a giant serpent costume, carrying a weapon (?) in the right hand and a shield in the left. He is flanked by two dwarf figures. The Worcester Museum column is quite similar although less damaged. The Museum of Primitive Art column is also very similar in costume and composition but has only one dwarf figure, on the halach uinic’s left. That dwarf has a hunch back and does not have the achondroplastic proportions.
URL http://books.openedition.org/cemca/docannexe/image/6069/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 159k
Légende 5. Xtablakal. Roll out drawing of the reassembled segments of the column. Seems to represent a dancing(?) figure on a god’s head in a bacab-like pose although his left arm is indistinct. It is interesting that the figure is not carved to the same elevation on the column as are the glyphs. There appears to be a bird on a branch under this figure’s upraised right arm. The god’s head to the right of this drawing is taken from the column of similar composition with the dancing jaguar. David Kelley has examined the drawing and says that he doesn’t recognize any of the glyphic compounds, but that the reversal glyph at B7... “may have some sort of astronomical reference”. He further suggests that these glyphs might be ritual or ritual-historical.
URL http://books.openedition.org/cemca/docannexe/image/6069/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 215k
Légende 6. Fat God. This column from Oxkintok is perhaps the largest representation of this popular character. It was photographed with its adjacent column figure in situ in the early 1930’s. Presently he is one of the more prominent figures in the Maya exhibition in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Sadly he has been cut into smaller pieces and the back of the column has been hollowed out.
URL http://books.openedition.org/cemca/docannexe/image/6069/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 306k

Auteur

(Central College, Pella, Iowa)

© Centro de estudios mexicanos y centroamericanos, 1985

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