Maya Shell Trumpets: An Interpretative Pivot

Author(s): Philippe Bezy

Year: 2017


For the ancient Maya, the use of music was often depicted as central to ritual activity.  One of the longest lasting instruments, the shell trumpet, provides ample material for analysis.  My three-pronged interpretive approach is made possible by the shell’s use in ancient ritual contexts, its appearance in Classic era iconography, and its organic origins. Archeologically provenanced trumpets, for example, yield deposition data, while art historical methods address both unprovenanced trumpets and their depictions in Maya art. Malacological information about marine mollusks and their ecological niche offer a supplementary layer to interpretative efforts that impacts our understanding of ancient Maya shell selection. The conjunction of the three approaches emphasizes the ritual function shell trumpets fulfilled and further indicates an association between specific species and specific ritual practices.  What is more, some examples suggest a concerted effort to coordinate the species chosen with other ritually important components like directionality and color.

Cite this Record

Maya Shell Trumpets: An Interpretative Pivot. Philippe Bezy. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 431099)

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Maya Shell Trumpet

Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

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

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 16966