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Maya recorded the history and lineage of their rulers on architectural elements, ceramic vessels, stone implements, and even wooden boxes. This section of the exhibition presents several artifacts on which the Maya documented dynastic history and other aspects of their culture, as well as two volumes in which European scholars recorded Maya cultural and social matters.

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Stone Artifact with Incised Hieroglyphs

This remarkable incised stone object from the Guatemalan Lowlands dates to AD 489. Recent scholarship indicates that the artifact may have been attached atop a staff and used in the Maya ballgame. Nine hieroglyphs encircle the object dedicating the object to a prince on August 5, 489.

Stone torus with incised hieroglyphs. Guatemalan Lowlands. Maya, AD 489. Limestone. Jay I. Kislak Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (034.00.00). Photo ©Justin Kerr, Kerr Associates

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Carved Mirror-Back With Hieroglyphs

This diminutive slate mirror back from the Guatemalan Lowlands is carved with one of only two known texts referring to the king known as Yax Yopaat (First Axewielder), an important but little-known ruler of the Snake Dynasty, a powerful ruling lineage of the Maya. The mirror itself appears to have been the property of Yax Yopaat’s otherwise unknown son, whose name is only partially deciphered, “?-Ch’een.”

Carved mirror back with hieroglyphs. Guatemalan Lowlands. Early Classic Maya, AD 200–600. Greenish slate with red cinnabar. K4829. Jay I. Kislak Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (034.01.00). Photo ©Justin Kerr, Kerr Associates

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Tortuguero Box

A full-length portrait of a Maya lord and forty-four hieroglyphic signs are carved on all sides of this diminutive offering box, one of very few surviving Maya personal objects made of wood.  The text yields important insights into the complex hierarchical Maya social system.  As we understand the text today, the main protagonist is the lord depicted on the cover, Aj K’ax B’ahlam, who held an important secondary office under the patronage of the seventh-century Tortuguero King Ik’ Muyil Muwaahn II.  The text concludes with the date the box was made, October 14, AD 681, and names it the yotoot mayij or “offering container” of Aj K’ax B’ahlam himself.

The wooden offering container of Aj K'ax B'ahlam of Tortuguero. Mexico. Tabasco. Maya, AD 681. Wood (sapodilla) and red hematite. Jay I. Kislak Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (038.00.00)

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Maya City of Palenque

In 1787, the military governor of Guatemala sent soldier Antonio del Río to excavate a Maya ruin near Palenque, marking the dawn of scientific archaeology in the Americas.  Del Río and his men spent two weeks clearing the site and three more weeks studying, drawing, and exploring.  Del Río recounted the work in a remarkable report that was illustrated with thirty drawings made by Ricardo Almendáriz. Del Río’s manuscript has been preserved in Madrid, but the original drawings were only recently found in a private European collection.

Ricardo Almendáriz (fl. ca. 1787). Coleccion de estampas copiadas de las figuras originales . . . del Pueblo Palenque (Collection of drawings copied from the original figures . . . of the village of Palenque)[1787]. Jay I. Kislak Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (036.00.00, 036.00.01, 036.00.02, 036.00.03)

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First Report on the Maya Ruins of Palenque

This book contains an English translation of the first report on the Maya ruins of Palenque.  Antonio del Río, a Spanish artillery captain, led the expedition and was accompanied by the artist Ricardo Almendáriz who prepared twenty-five plates of thirty subjects.  The report and drawings emphasized the descriptions of plazas, structures, tablets, and sculptures.  Although neither man had specific expertise, the report and engravings captivated the European scholarly world.  This edition contains engravings by J. F. Waldeck based on Almendáriz’s drawings.

Antonio del Rio (fl. 1786–1789). Description of the Ruins of an Ancient City, Discovered near Palenque. . . . London: Henry Berthoud, and Suttaby, Evance and Fox, 1822. Jay I. Kislak Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (037.00.00, 037.00.01, 037.00.02, 037.00.03))

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Family History of a Spanish Merchant

This book contains 125 manuscript documents, including parish register information, depositions, and coats of arms, that constitute the genealogies and family histories of Ignacio López de Herrera (a Spaniard) and his wife, a criolla (American-born person of Spanish descent), of Mexico.  Purity of one’s bloodline was a matter of importance in the multi-racial and highly stratified society of eighteenth-century Mexico.  Certification of one’s bloodline as pure Spaniard would have been essential for de Herrera’s children’s inheritance and social status.  This hand-painted plate with the López coat of arms includes flourishes and botanical decorations within a gold-painted border.

Genealogy and Family History of Merchant Alférez Ignacio López de Herrera and wife . . . (1703–1739), Jay I. Kislak Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (039.00.00, 039.00.01, 039.00.02, 039.00.03, 039.00.04)

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