Iconography of the Pre-Columbian Maya rattles

Keywords: Maya culture, Maya iconography, archaeomusicology, Maya rattle


The article provides a thorough analysis of the rattles depicted in Maya art, including their construction, decoration, and playing techniques. The gourd vessel rattle is the most frequently depicted musical instrument in Maya art, appearing in 108 iconographic sources. The rattles vary in shape, size, and adornment, with some being elaborately decorated and others unadorned. The author uses insights mostly from iconographic evidence to classify rattles into different types and subtypes based on their shape, adornment, and context of use. The article concludes that the round rattle with slits and adornments was the iconic representation of the rattle in Maya culture. The rattle appears in scenes representing courtly life, ceremonies, and battles. The text highlights the association of rattles with dancing, masking, and impersonation rituals, where they were often used as prestigious and powerful objects, manipulated by the most important characters. Adorned rattles generally indicate a musician of a higher status and correspond to the richness of their attire. It is also the only musical instrument with which rulers were depicted.


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How to Cite
Ciura, M. (2023). Iconography of the Pre-Columbian Maya rattles. Estudios Latinoamericanos, 42, 155-202. https://doi.org/10.36447/Estudios2022.v42.art7