Introduction I Table of Contents I Previous Example I Next Example

Lithics - Reliefs


Maya Stelae

Origin I Characteristics I Urgency of the Situation I Legislation I Bibliography

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Stela 51, Calakmul,
stone, 4.1 x 1.5 m
Lintel 47,Yaxchilan,
stone, 1.5 m x 60 cm
Stela 1, Jimbal,
stone, high: 2.3 m
  © Museo Nacional de Antropología © Museo Nacional de Antropología © Joya Hairs


Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, and Honduras.


Maya stelae, lintels, door jambs, wall panels and altars decorated with low reliefs are found in most of the Maya area (the Yucatan Peninsula, the state of Chiapas in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and western Honduras), and particularly in the Petén tropical forest. This type of stelae was carved between 200 and 1300 AD in the Classic and Post-Classic periods.
Limestone is the most commonly used material. Sizes vary according to the place they come from but they average 1.5 and 2.5 m in height. However, stelae found on the market may have been cut into smaller pieces.
Stelae are big slabs of stone carved in one single piece.
They are rectangular and one or more sides are decorated; sometimes they are sculpted in the round. They usually portray lavishly dressed male figures in standing position, accompanied by secondary figures such as prisoners, women, dwarves, children, animals and celestial beings. They can be cut off the original stela and sold as small individual low reliefs.
Scenes usually contain hieroglyphic inscriptions that cover the rest of the stela. Inscriptions contain historical dates and the names and titles of depicted individuals. They give us information about the royal family, their marriages, victories, defeats and the history of the city for over a century.


--Urgency of the Situation  

Stelae and other low reliefs are representative of the Maya civilization. Not only are they important from an iconographical and artistic point of view but they are also historical documents crucial for the reconstruction of Maya history.
Although their existence is known since the 18th century, a great number of stelae and other reliefs have been discovered in explorations and excavations since 1930.
In the sixties, the looting of this type of piece increased due to the high demand from collectors. They were cut in blocks to facilitate their transportation and then reassembled once they reached their destination. Looting has contributed to the destruction of a great number of monuments featuring this type of relief.
Nevertheless, new monuments that could be the target of looters are still found lying in the surface or underground. When dismantled and taken away from the cities and original buildings in which they were found, they lack unity and provide little information.


--Legislation Protecting these Objects  

See Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, and Honduras

  • Coe, Michael D. The Maya. New York,Thames & Hudson, 1993.
  • Schmidt, Peter, Mercedes de la Garza, & Enrique Nalda (coord.). Maya. New York, Rizzoli ed., 1998.




Introduction I Legislation I Acknowledgments I General Bibliography I Previous Example I Next Example
Red List Home Page I ICOM Web Site

October 2003