Economic Botany

, Volume 63, Issue 2, pp 119–129

Sacred Giants: Depiction of Bombacoideae on Maya Ceramics in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize



Sacred Giants: Depiction of the Malvaceae Subfamily Bombacoideae on Maya Ceramics in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize This study categorized and identified plants depicted on Maya ceramics from the Classic Period (250 a.d.–900 a.d.). We chose art objects with a predominance of iconographic images of Malvaceae subfamily Bombacoideae, which are easily identified morphologically and have culinary, medicinal, ceremonial, economic, and cosmological significance to the Maya. Among ten species of Bombacoideae native to the Southern Lowlands region of Central America (Belize, parts of Guatemala, and Mexico), the Maya utilized at least six, which also have Maya names. We observed four or five bombacoid species depicted on Maya ceramics; most images were identifiable to genus. Burial urns and incensarios (incense burners) commonly had images of trunk spines of Ceiba pentandra, the Maya “World Tree.” Flowers of Pseudobombax ellipticum, a plant used to make ceremonial beverages, were most similar to floral images portrayed on vessels, bowls, and plates, although the morphologically similar flowers of Pachira aquatica may also be depicted. Plants representing Quararibea funebris or Q. guatemalteca, which were used during preparation of cacao beverages, were discernable on drinking vessels.

Key Words

Malvaceae Bombacoideae Bombacaceae bombac bombacs ceiba ancient Maya Maya 

Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Missouri Botanical GardenSt. LouisUSA
  2. 2.Department of Botany & Microbiology and Oklahoma Biological SurveyUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA

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