The dwarf motif in Classic Maya monumental iconography: A spatial analysis

Wendy J Bacon, University of Pennsylvania


Although scholars of Classic Maya art have described certain short-statured figures as achondroplastic dwarves and endowed them with mystical significance, the motif has gone undefined biologically, iconographically, and ideologically. This contextual analysis of 45 short-statured individuals, depicted on archaeologically provenienced monuments, identifies the anatomical and cultural attributes that define the dwarf motif. Investigation at all levels of settlement, from small, dependent sites to regional superpowers, demonstrates how ancient Maya artists adapted broadly shared iconography to express local identity. While epigraphic, ethnohistoric, and ethnographic data support a variety of roles for dwarves, shifting over 300 years, monumental depictions of dwarves are consistently associated with symbols of liminality, implying that the motif represented the process of transition for the ancient Maya. This analysis of the dwarf motif grounds the interpretation of iconography not only firmly in archaeological context but within the ancient Maya conception of time and their ideological integration of the natural and supernatural as well.

Subject Area

Archaeology|Art history|Pathology

Recommended Citation

Bacon, Wendy J, "The dwarf motif in Classic Maya monumental iconography: A spatial analysis" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3292005.