let the objects speak

Classic Maya - Ancient Maya Cylinder Vase - In the Object's Own Words

Cylinder vase depicting a monkey - Maya


Normally, I sit quietly in my display case while I'm being admired by museum visitors, however, since I have your attention, I think I'll take this opportunity to tell you a little bit more about myself and my life story.

To you I might look like a flower vase, but I was actually used as a drinking vessel in my day. My thin yet sturdy walls were perfectly formed for the ease of drinking special prestige beverages. Clay such as I was made from is easily transformed into shapes for holding food and drink, both for daily use and for ritual feasting. Notice the playful spider monkeys that adorn the exterior of my cylindrical body, and how nicely my features are highlighted with black and red paint!


I am especially fond of my hieroglyphs. Writing like this may tell about important historical events, or speak of the person for whom I was made. Something much more important than flowers used to be contained within me; I probably held the thick frothy chocolate beverage the Maya were known to drink, particularly on special occasions. The drink was made from cacao beans and maize, a favorite among rulers and the well-to-do!


Vessels like me were often either made for burial during a funeral, or interred with other things given to the deceased during life. Other vessels similar in shape and function have elaborate designs that refer to how we were used, and by whom. The scenes painted on us were created to celebrate beliefs, as well as to tell stories to future generations. Who knew that I would still be around to tell my tale more than a thousand years after I was made?


How did I end up in Canada? I entered the country as a piece of art for sale, probably many decades ago. Many museums and private collectors legally acquired pieces that were not scientifically excavated by archaeologists before it was considered wrong to do so. However, laws are now in place that forbid unauthorized excavations and the sale of antiquities. Today I live in The Gardiner Museum's Ancient America Gallery, a collection dedicated to education. From here everyone has an opportunity to learn about the achievements of my ancient people, as well about how ceramic objects like me were used in the past.