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Deer Imagery in Ancient Maya Art

Matthew Looper, California State University, Chico, Summer Fellow 2015–2016

During my fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks, I conducted research for a book project on deer imagery in ancient Maya art, particularly as represented on painted and carved ceramics from the Classic period. In addition to iconographic and epigraphic approaches, the study employs comparisons of these images with hunting-related lore from the colonial and modern eras. Owing to conversations with other fellows, I was initially inspired to work on the chapter concerning the relationship of deer to status, as reflected in imagery and texts, as well as on the archaeological evidence of trade and the consumption of venison. After completing this chapter, I moved on to two other chapters: deer deities and lore in the codices, and deer spirits (wahy).

Although these investigations are ongoing, I was able to compile a large and comprehensive catalog of relevant imagery, owing in part to access I was given by Juan Antonio Murro to the Maya Ceramic Archive, housed in the Dumbarton Oaks Museum. In this extremely important archive, I located a number of images of deer deities and related hunting imagery that will be of major significance in the final study. In addition, during my stay at Dumbarton Oaks, I was able to arrange visits to a number of museum collections, including the Smithsonian storage facilities in Suitland, Maryland, and several collections in Baltimore, in order to photograph objects relevant to the project.