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Cylinder Vase (work of art)

Artwork Info

circa 650–850
Unknown Maya Artist
Height, diameter, and circumference:
4.875 x 5.25 x 16.5 inches (12.4 x 13.4 x 42.0 centimeters)


Gift of Mr. John B. Fulling

Object Number
Ancient American

Key Ideas about this Work of Art

  • The donor of this piece, John B. Fulling, a Florida-based collector, amassed a collection of classic Maya pottery between 1974 and 1981. This collection was systematically looted from the Petén (Guatemala) region sites throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. His collection eventually made its way to museums across the United States.
  • Ak’b’al is a glyph, or symbol, that represents the night in this work of art. It is part of the sacred symbols that were used in the Maya calendar.

Learn More

The scene depicted on this vase may represent either a postwar celebration dance or an ancestor emerging from a supernatural cave, which is common in Maya art. In Mesoamerican societies, dance was an important part of public rituals. Painted images of dancing human figures cover the surface of this cylinder-shaped vase, and the images between the figures appear to be war shields, banners, or other symbols of war. Notice the use of crossed spears with large spear points. 

The human figures on the vase may be different versions of the same man. He is depicted in different poses wearing a headdress and apron that features the Maya symbol for night (Ak’b’al), along with a loincloth, a collar, and bracelets. In each version of the figure, parts of his face and body are painted black, and his mouth and hands are painted red. 

The two main elements that separate the scenes painted on the vase include an image (possibly a cave) with Ak’b’al symbols, two spears, and feathers. The other visual element on the surface of the vase is a bundle containing feathers, flowers, cotton, and textiles. The inside of the vase is painted with geometric designs. 

Additional Resources

Resources for Teachers

  • Compare similar scenes on other Maya vases in examples 1, 2, 3, and 4.
  • Explore the Ak’b’al glyph


Resources for Students


  • A clay jar or vase decorated with Maya symbols.

    Cylinder Vase

  • A clay jar or vase decorated with Maya symbols.

    Cylinder Vase

  • A clay jar or vase decorated with Maya symbols.

    Cylinder Vase