The Dwarf Motif in Classic Maya Monumental Iconography: A Spatial Analysis

Author(s): Wendy Bacon

Year: 2018


Although scholars of Classic Maya art have described certain short-statured figures as dwarves and endowed them with mystical significance, the motif has gone undefined. This contextual analysis identifies the anatomical and cultural attributes of the dwarf motif and interprets its meaning within the ancient Maya conception of time and their ideological integration of the natural and supernatural.

A spatial analysis of 45 depictions of short-statured individuals on archaeologically provenienced monuments reveals that the dwarf motif follows the trajectory of political power in the Maya lowlands, beginning within the Caracol-Calakmul polity and expanding with its reach. The dwarf motif appears at Tikal, in new stylistic configurations, upon its defeat of the Caracol-Calakmul alliance. Sites with flexible allegiances display the dwarf motif as a combination of local and regional stylistic elements. Evidence from small, dependent sites and regional superpowers reveals ancient Maya artists adapting broadly shared iconography to express locally the relationship between identity and power.

Monumental depictions of dwarves associate with symbols of liminality, implying that the Maya channeled the ‘otherness’ of dwarves into a visual metaphor for transition. Such depictions reveal an ancient society in which the ‘other’ expressed the integration of the natural and supernatural realms.

Cite this Record

The Dwarf Motif in Classic Maya Monumental Iconography: A Spatial Analysis. Wendy Bacon. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 443003)

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Spatial Coverage

min long: -94.197; min lat: 16.004 ; max long: -86.682; max lat: 21.984 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 19945