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Several years ago the New World Archaeoiogicai Foundation

began a program of investigations on the southwestem frontier of the
Maya area (Lee 1975). While re-examining the Preclassic site of La
Libetad (Lowe 1959), members of the NWAF decided to investigate
the report of "stone structures on islands" just across the river. That
area, formerly heavily forested and dificult of access, has been extensively cleared by a ten-year-old agricultural eiido. The "stone structures on islands," now readily visiblg tumed out to be a spectacularly

situted Maya site that we caTl Lagarterc.

Lagartero is located on the Chiapas-Guatemala border in the Cinaga de Lagartero, an 8.6-square-kilometer swamp formed by local
springs and the backing up of the waters of the Lagartero and San
Lucas rivers behind natural travertine bariers (Iig. l0-1). The
"swamp" is really a system of swiftly-flowing small rivers and shallow
and cenote-like lakes.
The main part of the site is located on islands and peninsulas that
project into the Lagartero lakes. Manmade {?) canals, now entirely
under water but visible from the air, indicate possibly lower levels
for the lakes and difierent outlines for the shores in ancient times.
On e islands and peninsulas large pyramids and low platforms that
apparently supported temples, palaces, and humble buildings, all
mostly constucted of perishable materials, are arranged around large
plazas and small patios.





The three-month-long investigations at Lagartero (Iebruary-April

19761, n which I was assisted by Deanne Gurr, concentrated on two
areas of the island that is the ceremonial center, called Limonal Group.
One area was the northwest and perhaps rnain plaza that apparently
functioned as a necropolis from Middle Classic through poStclassic
times. The other aiea was a major Tepeu.l-2 Horizon rqfuse ump
or basurerc at the south base of Mound 7a, part of a long pyramidal
building platform that defines the sourh side f the northe it'plaza.
The Lagartero basurero, a 24-by-l}-mefer zofie of concentrated
refuse tfiat varied 2.6 merers in depth, produced half a million potsherds, about 2 percent of which, or ten thousand, are polychrone
(see preliminary description presented at Forty-second International
Congress of Americanists, Paris, ).976, in symposium Maya Culturai
Evolution: Highlands and Lowlands), and many other aitifacts. Outstanding among the artifacts are the mold-made fi.gurines.
The basurero was excavated in two-by-two-meter sections aud by
twenty-centimeter levels, as no natural stratigraphy could be dis-

ro-r. Map of the general Maya area showing location of Lagartero

on Chiapas-Guatemala border.

Susanna M.


covered. During excavation most o{ the figurine fragments could be

separated from the mass of potsherds, and these have been partially
processed in the laboratory. Almost all the figurines from this refuse
situation were unfortunately found headless or bodiless; complete
figurines have not yet been reconstructed, and so the descriptions here
will be preliminary. The richness of the collection, however is abeady

The importance of the figurine collection from Lagartero lies in its

size iover five hundred figurines represented), the large number of each
variety of figuring their fair preservatioq and some unusual charucteristics such as their costume. The great majoity, a specific mafor
complex, provide us with a new focus of Maya figurine art, a style
previously unrecognized. The homogeneity of this coilection corresponds to the extraordinary homogeneity of the pottery vessel collection (this is especially notable in the polychrome pottery) and gives
us a glimpse of Maya ceremonial equipment at one point
tory on the southwest ontier.


Maya his-

f run FrcuRrNEs
In general, the mafor Lagartero ffgurine complex lIigs. 10-2-10-4) fits

within the traditions of the Late Classic Maya mold-made figurines.

The figurjnes share traits with both Maya Lowland and Highland examples. They have the stepped haircut, the tall conical hats, the
plumed and effigy headdresses, etc. Most of the heads probably fall
within Butler's (1935) "Y" type, although we know that that general
type is not at all crude and unrealistic, as she characterizes it. Howevert at Lagartero we have a local style, a particular combination of
traits that does not occur in other areas/ plus traits speciflc to Lagartero.

Most o{ the mold-mde human figurines from Lagartero fail within

what one can probably call one type of Maya figurine with difierences
on a varietal levef if I may borrow terms from the classificatory system for Lowland Maya ceramics. The persons shown all seem to be
dignitaries of some kind. Thee are no graceful dancers such as are
found in AkaYerapaz. Poses are usually rigid and formal. The moldmade pendants lFig. 10-5J, included here with the figurines, consistently show what are probably shamans and deity representations.
Certin other characteristics of the mold-made figurines are especially outstanding. About 60 percent of the bodies are female. These
are not women shown in genre attitudes, but elegant, obviously elite
or priestly individuals in highly stylized and presumably meaningful
formal poses. The heads, which we have not yer ff.tted to the bodieb,
seem generally masculine in aspect, but the faces of female figurines
in Maya art usualiy difier little from those of the males, and I am
hopeful that the heads and bodies will be oiaed together.
Unlike the mold-made figurines from most Maya areas, only a very
smali percentage o{ the Lagaftero figurines are whistles (Iig. 10-3d);
so far only six have evidence of a mouthpiece. When a mouthpiece

it is on the side of the figurine rather than a third footlike extension at the back.

is present

Costume and omament are of greatest importance. To display these

fully the Lagartero human seated figurine boes {80 percent of the
total number of bodies) usually were made in three pieces-the backs
and many of the bases are mold-made, with designs that continue
from the front. Standing flgurines are molded in two pieces plus the

The heads are mold-made in two pieces, front and back. Decoration,
such as turbanlike rolls of cloth, conical hats, earspools, and plumes,
are usually added afte molding. Heavy appendages were stuck part
way between the two halves of the head before they were ioined to
give extra support.
The largest group of heads {Fig. l0-2a-c), about fffty, have stepped
hairdos and turban headdresses. More than half have a row of raised
dots down the forehead; these correspond to dots down the forehead
and nose of painted flgures on the polychrome pottery. Others have
a pinch of ciay on the nose and another on the forehead. Three have
nose plugs; one has filed teeth.
-$., A small group (Fig. 10-29) of about ten examples have a smile showlng teeth and center-parted hair.
The second-largest group of heads ifig. 10-2d-f, i), about thirty examples, have appliqu strips of hair framing the faces. This group includes moe expressions, especially grimaces. Teatment of the forehead is similar to that of the other group.
A fourth and large group (about thirty) look much like the first $oup
except that the turbans and the earspools are included in the mold,
as are hairdos on the backs {Iig. 10-2j). Only the tassels on the earspools were added later.
Iifteen heads wear open-mouthed monster mask headdresses (Fig.
10-2h) that were common throughout the Maya area in Tepeu times.
The headdresses vary from compietely mold-made to completely
modeied and there are combinations of the two.
Small varieties of mold-made heads include those with closed eyes,
sunl<en features, and many others.
Most impressive of the figurine bodies are the seated cross-legged
female figurines with their powerful, commanding appearance {Iig.
10-3). The varieties into which I have tentatively divided them are
based on costume and gesture.
The variety of seated women that is most common (at least forty
examples and at least twelve are from the same mold) shows them
with their hands on their knees {Iig. 10-3a}. They wear longhuipils,
probably of cotton gauze, indicated by the many smali punctuations.
{It should be noted that we found quite a few garze fabric impressions in the clay they occur in both plain and basket weave.) On
the front and back is the same decoration: a long-nose monster mask
with a Chuen-like glyph in its headdress. Across the ffgure's chest
and extending to each shoulder is a water lily. Outstanding is the
band of fuIl-face glyphs around the neck of the huipil. The ffgures
also wear heavy necklaces with efrgy face pendants.


The Lagartero


The Lagarterc




TTGURE ro-2. Figurine heads from the Lagartero basutero.

All had tall conical
hats, plumes, or other omaments projecting above the tubans and hairdos
that are stili attached.

The Lago.rtero





Seated female mold-made figurine bodies.


Susanna M.

The Lagarterc







ro-4. a-e:

Seated male mold-made

made base showing folded legs

ing male figurine body.


5 cm.

frgurine bodies (note the mold-

in b); f: standrng female figurine body; g: stand.

ln anotler variety of about forty similar figurines {Iig. 10-3b-c) the

women weat short huipils of gauze. Some have flower designs on the
front and back, some have a net design, and some have a combination



The Lagartero


of the two.

The thid variety of women with their hands on their knees wear
short jackets or shawls just covering both breasts (IiS. 10-3d). The
two examples, quite small figures, were probably both whistles.
Seated women are often shown gesturing elegantly. About twentyfour raise their right hands, the fingers curved {Fig. 10-3e). Nineteen
of these wear elaborately decorated shawls like rubozos. Thee othrs
wear their shawls closed with the comers hanging in points and the
.hu"rpil showing below. One, raising her le{t hand has a band of gl1phs
around the neck of her short huipil that is decorated front and back

with a monster mask with half-closed eyes. Several wear unusual garments that cover only one breast.
Seated women are also shown gesturing with the left hand palm
outward and fingers extended (Fig. 10-3f). Four of tese wear a shawl
over a p14n, longhuipil or shawl decorated with circles; these latter
ae distinctive, however, in that the heads ae molded with the bodies
-even the earspools and hairdos are molded (Fig. 10-2i).
Other positions cannot yet be described. Thee women with iacketlike garments seem to hoid both hands at the waist. Iour fragments
with glyph bands at the neck wear unusual pendants with almost









glyphlike faces.



seated male figurines (Fig. 10-4a-e) are of the same type. They
are recognizable by their distinctive garments and their less shapely

i; '''




bodies. They sit in a slightly difierent position with their feet protruding in front.
The most common man's garment is a short toga or shawllike cloth



tied on the left shoulder {about forty) or the right shoulder (about
eleven) and passing below the other arm. The designs on these togas
and the shape of their edges vary.Ten have a glyph band at the top
edge (although these "glyphs" are'much more cursive than the ones
on the women's gamcents) and a monster mask on the front and back
the men wear a breechclout that is seen passing between their legs
on the molded bases; their right arms are raised across thefu chests
(Fig. 10-4a). A similar toga but with a'squared edge and no glyphs is
worn by thirty men who raise their left hands across their chests (Fig,
10-4b). Eleven have togas with monster masks in cartouches; they

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raise their right hands across their chests.

The second typical garment for seated men is a wide decorated cloth
or skin worn hanging down in the front only (Fig. 10-4d) over a breech-

5 cm.


ro-5. Mold-made ciay pendants.

clout that leaves the buttocks naked. In all cases the men sit with
both arms encased by the garment. Although the position looks uncomfortablg the figures, with such elaborately decorated clothes, do
not seem to be bound prisoners. There appear to be examples of "front
capes" (Mahler ).965:590-591) and seem to refute Mahler's suggestion
that the representations of thee on pottery and in the codices may
be side views of a rounded front cloak. Fifteen have monster mask
designs on their belts and fringed skirts below. Ten wear triangular
garments/ some with circle designs, others with monsters.



Three seateti men wear fringed jackets, like the Aztec xicolli,

flower designs in circles (Iig.



Seven seated males are shown gesturing (Iig. l0-4c). They wear what
is probably a deerskin tied behind so that it hangs ofi the shoulders
and covers the figure,s front, with the white tail flipped ove to make

a pendant on the chest; the front has a monster *st ln a cartouche.

The right hand makes the gesture with the fingers curved that is identical to that of the women.
Standing mold-made female flgurines (Fig. l0-4{} are outstanding for
their graceful gestures and regal bearing, although these ffgures are
rare. Their costumes are even more elaborate than those of the seated
females and ae usually shawls over huipils that in turn cover one
or more skirts. Hands are shown curving up in front of the chest on
seven exampies, curving down on ffve examples, one curving up and
one curving down on two examples, one pointing up and one pointing
down on two examples. Three ffgurines show the use of fine, long

There ae no comparable standing mold-made male figurines. All
standing males are possibly shamanlike and may be shown in an act
of ritual transformation into an animal. About ten plain ones wear
only a breechcloug but they have tails. Others, about fifteen, wear
skins or nets and are often grotesquely fat-bellied {Fig. 1O-ag).
Much of the originai paint-blue, red and white-remains on the

There is another group of mold-made clay artifacts that is related

to the flgurines. These are pendantg presumably to be worn on necklaces. Perhaps they are the pendants that are shown being worn by
most of the mold-made figurines. Most of them are simply heads,
but they are not broken ofi of figurines they are complete as they

with perforations in the back lor suspension.

Eighteen pendants epresent what may be shamans (Fig. 10-5). They
are bearded grotesque faces,; protruding from the head are one round
knob or horn and one ot two tassels. Even more grotesque faces, o{ten
with starlike protrusions, number sixteen. Of twenty-five monsters,
six ae long-nose creatures. Animals, too/ are shown as pendants,;
they are usually birds, either ound-bellied unelistic ones (twelve
examples) or macaws or quetzals (eleven exampies).
It is not within the scope of this essay to treat the several hundred
animal figurines/ most of which are mold-made. It is interesting, however, that about one hundred of the animal ff.gurines represented are
dogs. Many dog bones were also found in thebasurero.
Mold-made and modeled figurines occur together in the Lagartero
basuterc. Modeled flgurines are much fewer in number and seem to
represent a difierent class of persons. AII are males. They arc scantily
clad, usually only in loincloths, and some may depict sacrificial victims whose entrails are shown during some form of disembowelment.
Other modeled ffgurines are grotesque, fat, half-animal, and phallic
figures. Some animals, too, especially birds, which are usually whistles, are modeled.,
What can be said about the Lagartero mold-made figurine complex
at this early stage in our analysis?

By the nature of the baswero, with its lacl< of stratigraphy and its
homogenous contents, I feel that the refuse in it was deposited within
a fairly short time, perhaps even within a single season. Whether it
refers to ceemonies that took place on the platforms or was brought
in fom another part of the ceremonial center we do not know. All of
the figurines (and other artifactsJ were probably being used at the same

The Lagarterc


It also seems. likely that the figurines wee manufact\red at LaE r'
tero. The pastes are all generally similar. Included in the refuse were
about twenty figurine molds. There are many pairs and groups of figurines made in the same mold.
One of the extraordinary facts about the polychrome pottery from
the basurero is that only about 5 percent of the vesseis do not bear
giyphs. O{ those that do, 90 percent bear only a Chuen-like glyph
with various affixes. That is the same glyph as the one shown on the
huipils o the main group of seated female figurines, and the glyph
may be associatd especially with Lagartero or its ceremonies.
. The elaborate cosumes on the Lagartero ffgurines will merit special
attention. Apparently shown are cotton garments with various types
of decoration (embroidery, brocadg appliqu, and paint), and the garments are of many types. They incate a $eat textile uaft specializa'
tion and will be stued to identify gatments and make comparisons
with ethnographic costume and costume shown on Maya stelae and
other figurines (Walter F. Morris, fr., work in preparation). Apparently
the Lagartero figurine sculptors took the license of not showing drapery as that wouid distort the essentiai thing the designs on the


The area neat Lagartero today is an importnt cotton-growing zone,

and not too distant areas were famous for their cotton production
in ancient times. Thomas Gage {}. E. S. Thompson 1958:148) speaks
of the production of "cotton-wool" in Copanabastla iCopanaguastla)
that was widely traded, Then at Izquintenango, Gage encountered a
great trading certer, "very rich, by reason of the much cotton-wool
in it" {Thompson 1958:161). Izquintenango is about a three-hour walk
from Lagartiro. The Grifalv a ialtey until very recently was famous lfo its fine cotton textiles such as those of the Zoque of Tuxtla Gutirez and those of the Tzeltal Maya of San Bartolom de los Llanos
(Venustiano Caranza) (Cordry and Cordry l94I). That this fame possibly extended back to Late Classic times in the easten part of the
valley may be evidenced by the.Lagartero figurine costumes.
A major problem when faced with the study of a figurine collection
such as this one is the lack of published comparative material. Ex'
cavated ffgurines, usually fragmentary, are rurely published completely. Also, known whole figurines are usually from looted sites and have
lost their provenience.
In this respect, howevet, we have had some luck. In the report on
the excavations atZaotler, Woodbury and Trik i1953: Figs. 270-2771
show some figuriie fragments that came from their excavations and
from a small mound south of and across the barranca from the Zaculeu
ceremonial center, and there is our flgurine complex. The heads, while
difficult to evaluate exactly, would not be out of place among our

Susanna M.


figurines. Body fragments shown could be from Lagartero. There are

even six examples of our peridants-five grotesque faces and a bird.
Here is confirmation of the pendants,relationship with the ffgurines
nd some evidence of the areal spread of the entire mold-made complex. Wolfgang Haberland has funished me with a photograph of a
ffgurine in the Termer Collection in the Museum frlr Vlkeikunde,

Hamburg, that was purch ased in 1926 and comes from Aguacatan, near
Huehuetenango it could be frona the same mold as oui male figures


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wearing short, fringed jackets. This is the only real comparative

evidence so far, tJrough, and we must assume that the complex is
limited to the southwestern Maya frortier.
Figurines, in spite of their ubiquity and often very illuminating ethnographic detail, remain an enigma. No one has ever been able to
say for sure how they were used, and one usually ends up saying, as
does Rands (1965J in his summary article on Highland Maya flgurines,
simply that they were probably used in many ways. This may well be
true in the main, but perhaps with finds such as this one at Lgartero
we can begin to discuss the function of specific fi.gurine complexes.
No ffgurines (or polychrome pottery) were found-in any of the fiIty
or so burials of the northwest plaza, although many were probably
of the same period. The ffgurines are an exception to Borhegyi,s {1965:
35) rule that Highland Late Classic figurines are primarily ,,ofr.ertory
or decorative objects" and that "they are never found boken or bat-

The preponderance of female figurines is intrigng. This ffgurine
complex is intimately associated with the polychrome pottery complex with its extensive fi.gure painting. But only males seem to be

painted on the pots. The female figurines seem to be more prepossess-

ing and important than the male ones, as if they played

more im-

portant role.
We have the tantalizing suggestion tat this collection of figurines
with such a narow range of activities shown may represent a small
numbe of individual roles pertaining to a parricular ritual or group
of rituals such as an end-of-cycie ceremony. The few por.r *d g.rtures may also refer to slight variation of class or social status. We
left with the hope of being able to reconstruct in some wy some
highly f ormali zed. rrt:ual.

Ethnohistoric Approaches