Of all the ancient cultures of the Americas the Mayan civilization holds some of the greatest fascination for current times. The Mayans had an advanced culture, making intellectual advances in almost all cultural and technological fields including the visual arts, architecture, mathematics, astronomy and calendar science.
Mayan culture was based in what are now present day Southern Mexico, Guatemala, Northern Honduras and Northern El Salvador. Rather than being a unified empire the Mayans were a collection of powerful city-states with a history of intrigue, shifting alliances and vicious warfare. Their art was inspired by a rich and extensive mythology and exposure through trade. The ceramics arts were one of the most advanced and prolific of any culture in the world.
Mayan ceramic arts are characterized by a tremendous variety of styles and designs. These variations show the valuation that Mayan culture placed on artistic quality and individual genius. This is obvious in the plethora of surviving funeral urns found in museums across the planet. The Museo Popal Vuh has the largest collection in the world with over 100.
There are common iconographic themes that repeat in different styles on these urns. Three of the most common are faces or masks of deities, felines, and skulls. Some of these urns were for burial and others for containing the ashes after cremation. The burial urns are large two part lidded urns with decorative figures on their lids. These were large enough to contain the body of the deceased along with burial goods to be used in the after-life. Cinerary urns are of similar design but smaller. The extravagance of either of these types of urns depended on the status of the individual it housed.
The official web site of Museo Popol Vuh: www.popolvuh.ufm.edu