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Jade plaque of a Maya king

The scene on this plaque, carved in the so-called “Nebaj style,” represents a Maya ruler in full ceremonial regalia sitting cross-legged on a throne. ​His head is shown in profile, while
Jade Plaque of a Maya King, c. 600-800 C.E., Maya, Classic period, jadeite, 14 x 14 cm, Teotihuacan, Mexico © Trustees of the British Museum
his body faces to the front. He wears an elaborate plumed headdress incorporating part of the head of a monstrous animal. He is richly decorated with personal ornaments, many of which would have been made of jade. These include ear flares, a bar pectoral, wristlets, anklets and an impressive belt with a mask. On his left arm he wears a war shield bearing the image of the Jaguar God of the Underworld. The king inclines slightly to the right towards an attendant. A scroll issues from his mouth indicating either speech or song.
Similar plaques have been found at other sites, including at the Cenote of Sacrifices (the Sacred Well) in Chichen Itza, where they were thrown as offerings.
The color of the plaque varies, with a darker hue on the left where the smaller figure was carved. This is due to the different chemical components of the jade and depends on its source. The main source of Maya jade is the Motagua Valley, in Guatemala.
The plaque is broken around the edges, which may indicate that it was reused. Suspension holes drilled towards the top of the plaque indicate that it was worn as a personal ornament and possibly, due to its large size, as a separate pectoral pendant.
Suggested readings:
A. Digby, Maya jades, revised edition (Trustees of the British Museum, 1972).
S. Martin and N. Grube, Chronicle of the Maya kings and Queens (Thames and Hudson, 2000).
C. McEwan, Ancient Mexico in the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1994).
L. Schele and M.E. Miller, The Blood of Kings (London, Thames & Hudson, 1986).
© Trustees of the British Museum

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