An Iconographic and Historic Analysis of Terminal Classic Maya Phallic Imagery

Classic Maya 24grammataLaura M. Amrhein

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Dissertation Abstract
The dissertation presents an iconographic analysis of a collection of phallic images associated with 9th-century Maya culture of northern Yucatán México, a period commonly referred to as the Terminal Classic Period. Two related issues are considered within the dissertation. (1) Formal documentation of a significant number of prominent images, primarily sculpture, originally located in numerous
large and smaller northern Maya sites. This documentation suggests that this
imagery is a major art form and that it has been historically overlooked in the
iconographic interpretations of Maya culture at these sites. (2) An iconographic
analysis and comparison of this relatively late imagery to similar earlier Classic
Maya imagery and iconography. This comparison suggests that phallic imagery
evolved directly out of earlier traditions and that it was a significant part of ancient
Maya spiritual life, cosmology, rulership, and lineage.
A brief historical analysis of Colonial and post-Colonial scholarship is included in
the dissertation. Four general historic contexts are considered: “Hidden Phallus,”
“Romantic Phallus,” “Documentary Phallus,” and “Historic Phallus.” An analysis
of these different contexts reveals how scholarship has affected or continues to
affect our understanding of ancient Maya culture and art.
Several iconographic contexts are considered such as “Gestures and Poses,”
“Trees and Pathways,” “Bacabs and Stones,” “Caves, Portals and Sacred
Spaces,” and “Names and Titles.” The large-scale phallic sculptures that appear
at sites such as Chichén Itzá are evaluated in the context of these themes in
ancient Maya cosmology and mythology. An analysis of Classic Maya
iconography suggests that ancient Maya concepts of lineage, rulership, and
creation are manifested in the overt form of the phallus during the Terminal
Classic Period. The appearance of such graphic or literal forms was in part a
response to the cultural and political changes taking place in the northern
Yucatán. Overt phallic images primarily served as community symbols that
secured Maya religious and ritual practices during this period of drastic change.
Phallic imagery served to sanctify sacred ritual space, order the community, and
legitimize the authority of the ruling elite.