Their world at hand: Entering the language of gesture in Classic Maya art

Author(s): Amy Maitland Gardner

Year: 2016


Our hands shape and express the social and material worlds in which we live by creating and measuring things around us and communicating our thoughts, feelings and ideas. In Classic Maya iconography, hands are represented in a variety of shapes and forms, which offers a unique glimpse into ancient Maya gestural practices. This paper journeys through the actions and representations of hands in the ancient Maya world, exploring the dynamic and dialogic relationships between bodily gestures and their referents in figurative art. What is the nature of this gestural language? Who could ‘read’ gestures in the iconography? Where did these gestures come from? And when did this body language end? By asking such questions, and by drawing upon gestures studies in art history and anthropology, this paper proposes that this visual language of gesture is rooted in deeper notions of time, measurement and offerings, which span the history of Maya culture and crucially situates Classic Maya figurative art within this historical and cultural framework. Fundamentally, this paper argues that the broader practice of gestures beyond elites was the repertoire from which certain gestures were drawn, with careful selection to function in particular iconographic contexts during the Classic Period.

Cite this Record

Their world at hand: Entering the language of gesture in Classic Maya art. Amy Maitland Gardner. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403196)


Art Hands Maya

Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;