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Mayan Carved Shell Appliques - Hands w/ Armadillos

Pre-Columbian, Mayan Territories, ca. 550 to 900 CE. A remarkably fine pair of hand-carved shell appliques depicting two hands making what to modern eyes look like the "hang loose" shaka gesture, usually associated with Hawaii. On the palm of each hand is an incised curled up armadillo, with its armor of meticulously delineated horny plates as well as an endearing visage of the animal topped by pointy ears - some of the recesses darkened with russet pigment or earthen deposits. The word armadillo was adopted from the Spanish term meaning 'little armed one' and as such may provide a hint as to what these appliques were attached. Perhaps each armadillo-adorned-hand decorated the regalia of a ruler or warrior. It is also possible that they were used to embellish the vestments of a ballgame player, as the armadillo's armor of horny plates signified strength and protection, traits that would very much benefit any ballgame player as well, though the 'ballgame' was typically of a ritualistic nature. Size: each hand measures ~ 1.25" W x 1.375" H (3.2 cm x 3.5 cm); 2.125" H (5.4 cm) on included custom stand.

For the Maya, the hand is featured most prominently in the writing glyph - depicted as an elegant painter's hand with the accompaniment of a writing tool. In Maya society, scribes were highly regarded as intellectuals and were often prominent members of the elite class. The use of a painter's hand to distill the idea of writing demonstrates how much the Maya respected the technical expertise of scribes. While it has been difficult to find a comparable example to this pair of shell hands, I did uncover an interesting artifact on a page from Stone and Zender's chapter on the writing glyph in their classic text entitled, "Reading Maya Art" - a carved shell paint container in the form of a hand with bent fingers (fig I, p. 42) - another nod to this association of the hand with art and writing.

Condition: Each hand has a single perforation at the center for attachment. Tiny, near invisible nicks to one pinky finger. Otherwise just minor surface wear.

Provenance: ex-private Florida USA collection

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