The centipede in the Maya art and culture

Keywords: Maya culture, iconography, mythology, cultural entomology, insects, arthropods, centipede


Insects and arthropods appear in the Maya art in a rich and diverse context, suggesting their prominent significance in the culture. In the following chapters I present my research concerning the appearance of the centipede, one of the arthropods most commonly represented in the Maya iconography. I studied depictions of the centipede in the art of the Classic Period (250 A.D. - 909 A.D) and compared them with epigraphical and ethnohistorical sources in order to define the specific symbolic meaning of this animal in all contexts of its occurrence. My research focused on the centipede as part of the vision serpent complex, its connections to the Palenque triad, Sun God K’inich Ajaw and Bolon Yokte K’uh. In the conclusion, I try to establish the significance of the centipede as the animal of transition, more specifically the transition between night and day and the Underworld and our world.


Metrics Loading ...


Barrera Vásquez, Alfredo 1993 Diccionario Maya. Maya-Español, Español-Maya 3rd edition, Mexico City: Editorial Porrua

Beliaev, Dimitri, Davletshin Albert 2006 Los sujetos novelísticos y las palabras obscenas: los mitos, los cuentos y las anécdotas en los textos mayas sobre la cerámica del Periodo Clásico. In: Sacred books, Sacred languages. Two Thousand Years of Ritual and Religious Maya Literature, pp. 21-44, Edited by R. Valencia y G. Le Fort, Markt Schwaben, Alemania: Verlag Anton Saurwein (Acta Mesoamericana, 18)

Boot, Eric 2004 Vocabulary in the Ch'olti' Language: A Transcription of the „Bocabulario Grande” by Fray Francisco Moran (1695), [online] Available at:

Boot, Eric 2005 Continuity and Change in Text and Image at Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico: A Study of the Inscriptions, Iconography and Architecture of the Late Classic to Early Postclassic Maya Site. CNWS Publications 135, Research School CNWS, Leide

Boot, Eric 2008 At the Court of Itzam Nah Yax Kokaj Mut: Preliminary Iconographic and Epigraphic
Analysis of a Late Classic Vessel. [online] Available at: :

2009 The Updated PreliminaryClassicMaya‐ English, English‐ Classic Maya Vocabulary of Hieroglyphic Readings. Mesoweb resources, [online] Available at:‐2009.01.pdf

Clancy, Flora S. 1994 The Classic Maya Ceremonial Bar. Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, [S.l.], p. pp. 7-45, [online] Available on: /analesiie/article/view/1709>

Coe, Michael D., Justin Kerr 1997 The Art of the Maya Scribe. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

Capinera, John L. 1993 Insects in Art and Religion: The American Southwest, In: American Entomologist, 39 (4).

Eberl, Markus, Prager, Christian 2005 B’olon Yokte’ K’uh: Maya conceptions of war, conflict, and the underworld. In: Wars and Conflicts in Prehispanic Mesoamerica and the Andes: Selected Proceedings of the Conference Organized by the Société des Américanistes de Belgique with the Collaboration of Wayeb (European Association of Mayanists), Brussels, 16–17 November 2002, Edited by Peter Eeckhout and Geneviève Le Fort, British Archaeological Reports International Series, no. 1385. Oxford, UK: John and Erika Hedges Ltd.

Freidel, David, Linda Schele, and Joy Parker 1993 Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman's Path. William
Morrow, New York.

Guenter, Stanley 2007 On the Emblem Glyph of El Peru. In: The PARI Journal VIII(2).

Grofe. Michael J. 2009 The Name of God L : B’olon Yokte’ K’uh?, In: Wayeb Notes, No. 30

Gronemeyer, Sven, MacLeod Barbara 2010 What could happen in 2012: a re-analysis of the 13- bak’tun prophecy on tortuguero monument 6, In: Wayeb Notes, No. 34

Grube, Nikolai, Nahm Werner 1994 A census of Xibalba: A complete inventory of way characters on Maya ceramics. In: The Maya Vase Book Volume 4. pp. 686-715. Kerr Associates

Helmke Christopher, Nielsen Jesper 2009 Hidden Identity & Power in Ancient Mesoamerica: Supernatural Alter Egos as Personified Diseases. In: Acta Americana,17(2).

Hogue, Charles Leonard 1991 Latin American Insects and Entomology, University of California Press

Hull, Kerry, Carrasco, Michael and Wald, Robert 2009 The First-Person Singular Independent Pronoun in Classic Ch’olan. In: Mexicon, vol. XXXI, no. 2, pp. 36-43

Jarrar Bashir M. 2010 Morfología, Histología e Histoquímica del Aparato Venenoso del Ciempiés, Scolopendra valida (Chilopoda, Scolopendridae). In:. J. Morphol., vol.28, n.1, pp.19-25. [online] Available at:

Kaufman, Terrence 2003 A Preliminary Mayan Etymological Dictionary ,[online] Available at:

Kettunen, Harri and Davis II, Bon, V. 2004 Snakes, Centipedes, Snakepedes and Centiserpents : Conflation of liminal species in Maya iconography and ethnozoology, In: Wayeb Notes, No. 9

Milbrath, Susan 1999 Star Gods of the Maya: Astronomy in Art, Folklore, and Calendars. Austin: University of Texas Press, Project MUSE

Montgomery, John, Helmke, Christopher 2007 Dictionary of Maya Hieroglyphs, [online] Available at: mayawriting/dictionary.htm

Prager, Christian 2011 Is T911 a Logograph for AS or ASUL "Locust, Grasshopper", [online] Available at

Roys, Ralph, L. 1933 The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel. Washington D.C.; Carnegie Institution
Roys, Ralph, L. 1965 Ritual of the Bocabs, The Civilization of the American Indian Series, Vol. 771, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press

Steinbach, Penny J. 2015 Sacrificing the Jaguar Baby: Understanding a Classic Maya Myth on Codex-style Pottery, Thesis, The University of Texas at Austin

Stuart, David 2005 The Inscriptions from Temple XIX. A Commentary, The Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute

Taube, Karl 2003 Maws of heaven and hell: The symbolism of the centipede and serpent in Classic Maya religion, In: Antropologia de la Eternidad: La Muerte en la Cultura Maya, Sociedad Espanola de Estudios Mayos

Tozzer, Alfred M. 1910 Animal figures in the Maya codices. Cambridge, Mass.: Published by the Museum.

Velásquez Garcia, Erik 2009 Reflections on the Codex Style and the Princeton Vessel, In: The PARI Journal, Volume X, No. 1

Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo 1992 From the enemy’s point of view: Humanity and divinity in an Amazonian society, Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Wagner Elisabeth, Gronemeyer Sven, Prager Christian 2015 Tz’atz’ Nah, a “New” Term in the Classic Mayan Lexicon, In: Textdatenbank und Wörterbuch des Klassischen Maya

Zender, Marc, Guenter Stanley 2003 The Names of the Lords of Xib'alb'a in the Maya Hieroglyphic Script. In: Sistematización de los Estudios Americanistas y sus Repercusiones. Edited by Hanffstengel, R. ., & Tercero, V. C. Eduard y Caecilie Seler, , D.F: Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
How to Cite
Ciura, M. (2019). The centipede in the Maya art and culture. Estudios Latinoamericanos, 38, 49-79.