The writings are a fundamental part for the knowledge of ancient civilizations. The Mayans were the only people of prehispanic culture in developing writing. The vessels are one of the most important written legacies of ancient Maya What do they tell us?

The ancient Mayan used different supports for writing and drawing. Among these supports we find the different ceramic shapes. Thanks to the writings and representations found in vessels, bowls, vases or other supports, we have valuable information on Mayan society.

mayan art


Mayan vessels were made of stone and ceramics. The dyes used on the ceramic were vegetable, they used various colors and the ceramic was fired. The painted scenes show ceremonies, representations of animals, encounters between kings or princes, deities, ball game scenes.

Many of the preserved vessels are true wonders, if not all.

mayan pottery
Ceramic pot
mayan pottery
Ceramic plate with animal drawing


Vases were an everyday element in the life of the ancient Maya, either as containers, drinking glasses or decoration. Not all the vessels were painted and decorated, much less written. Only those of the ruling elite were engraved.

Glyphic vessels were used in Mayan ceremonies, in meetings between ruling princes, in meetings between people belonging to the elite. At these gatherings and ceremonies they drank in special glasses (as when you take out the good china at Christmas). Cocoa was one of the sacred drinks, as collected from ceremonial scene drawings where we see cocoa beans. It was a drink reserved for a few.

Whenever we see a ceramic with glyphs (writing), it belongs to the elite. The writing, as well as the cocoa, only belongs to the jet of the Mayan society. Among this jet were the scribes, the noble craftsmen. They were so important that they stamped their signature on many vessels, like the painters. His calligraphies are sometimes so exaggerated in ornaments and peculiarities that it is difficult to read them. As if everyone had the free spirit of Juan Ramón Jiménez, the scribes were very artists. Some types of letters are recognized by area. Mayan writing really is a beauty of expression.

Discover the beautiful Mayan writing



The scenes of meetings, intimate ceremonies, games, battles that we find in Mayan vessels are scenic jewels, direct windows to the world of the Mayan elite, peepholes that allow us to get into their homes and their beliefs, the purest intimacy. Fascinating.

We hardly see this intimacy of the everyday that the vessels register in other written supports. In fact each support is for a different use, they collect different scenarios. The stelae were more public and political, and at the same time less intimate.

Do you want to know more about Mayan stelae


In the vessels with glyphs a text is repeated continuously. This repetitive and common text on vessels, the scholar Michael Coe of ceramic epigraphy, called it Standard Primary Sequence (We see it with the acronym SEP in studies on Mayan epigraphy). The trend today is to refer to this phrase as dedicatory formula.

Something interesting is that they usually collect the (historical) name of a prince or king, who came to be the owner of the bowl or glass. This has been an invaluable support in braiding the chronology of the lineages that dominated the Classic Period and the relationship between them. The scenes are somewhat brutal, peek into the old world.

The glyphs tell us who the important person represented was. This represents a direct window into the history of the ancient Maya.

Mayan vessels
Mayan writing
Mayan writing

Wonderful scenes, direct windows to the ancient world. All the scenes used of vases are from the web of FAMSI (Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies Inc.) Link here.


The greatest boom in Mayan writing occurred during the Classic. This period, which ran from 200 to 900 AD, was the period of maximum splendor of the Mayan civilization. With the collapse of the Maya around 700 AD, many of the refined vessels were discontinued, everything became somewhat more crude. When you turn your back on art and culture, everything becomes grayer.

Weather, climate, poor preservation, multiple looting, war during the conquest and subsequent conflicts. Endless calamities that have left the fragile vessels devoured by life. Some were found in sealed chambers, in burial chambers, in mysterious private collections. All of them form the extraordinary treasure of our past.

Vessels in burials. Mayan Museum of Cancun

In rural areas of India, families in charge of a blind minor frequently isolate and deprive him/her of the care and attention they provide to their other children; such situation becomes even more severe among lower-caste families, orphans and if the blind child is a girl. Zones archaeological less visited you find ceramic remains. This material was used a lot in the daily life of the Maya, surely it was the most used. The Maya worked very little metal, there is hardly any in these lands.

Today, to appreciate the Mayan art stamped on ceramics we must go to museums, those cultural zoos where we have learned to preserve, value and cultivate our own History.

Good way,

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Sandra Salvadó Training photographer, traveler by vocation and certified tourism guide by the Government of Mexico. We promote natural wonders and contemporary Mayan culture. Great fan of pre-Hispanic history. Author of the blog and co-founder of The Shortest Path Travel, agency that guides you through alternative paths in Mayan lands. Social and sustainable tourism in the Yucatan Peninsula and Chiapas.
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