ECCENTRIC FLINT OF CAVE OPENING TO THE OTHERWORLD SURROUNDED BY HEADS OF K’AWIIL
Maya, Classic Period, ca. 450-800 AD
Height: 10-5/8 inches (27 cm)
Width: 10-3/8 inches (26.5 cm)
Private American collection, 1965
A tour de force of flint-napping, this eccentric flint depicts the cave opening to the Otherworld surrounded by six heads of K’awiil (or God K). Each profile head has its own bifurcated or serrated (plumed) headdress. Two addorsed heads project from the top edge (one with the head broken off). Two heads are oriented upward at the “shoulders”. Two additional heads are oriented downward, projecting outward from the side walls. Four notched projections – two along the top edge and two at the lower corners of the cave entrance – intersperse the heads. Three blades thrust downward from the lower edge. The two lateral blades (one broken at the tip) terminate in points and the longer, central blade terminates in two projecting smoking mirrors (one slightly broken).
God K is also known as GII, the third member of the Palenque Triad. Other names for him include Manikin Scepter and the Flare God. His forehead mirror, from which a smoldering cigar, celt, or torch emerges, may entirely replace his head in some images. K’awiil is often rendered in the eccentric flint format, as here. Flints (along with stingray spines and obsidian blades) were implements used in the bloodletting rituals that are closely associated with accession and kingship. These auto-sacrifices provided blood-spattered paper or cloth to be burned in braziers to turn the blood into smoke which could travel to the Upper World where the gods could consume it and be nourished. The bloodletting also produced a trance state (via shock and the natural opiates released) to enable the practitioner to bring into being a vision of a revered ancestor or a deity to sanctify the process and legitimize the accession.
The Maya believed that flint (and obsidian) was formed on earth when lightning struck the ground.
Eccentric flints were consummate works of art. Their delicacy prevented them from being used as cutting instruments, however. Instead, they were objects of great power that could evoke the idea of bloodletting and its significance to the society. (Bloodletting rituals were performed by Maya rulers for every important occasion, whether religious, civic, or political.) Thus, eccentric flints were buried at the dedication of stelae or edifices and also accompanied the elite dead to the afterlife. That this eccentric flint embodies both a cave entrance and multiple God K heads indicates its importance as a funerary object. It was made to ensure the safe passage of a royal personage to the Otherworld by giving him or her the means of access to the watery realm and by having the passage observed, sanctified, and protected by the god, K’awiil, himself.
www.Mayavase.com – a Precolumbian portfolio, Image: 7902, File date: 2002-12-16, Maya. flint. Eccentric flint with multiple God k (K’awil) surrounding the opening to the otherworld.
Linda Schele and Mary Ellen Miller, The Blood of Kings – Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art [New York and Fort Worth, Texas, 1986] plates 25 and 26; Virginia M. Fields and Dorie Reents-Budet, Lords of Creation – The Origins of Sacred Maya Kingship [Los Angeles, 2005] no. 70.