Link to enlarge image K5741 © Justin Kerr Charles Zidar


The fauna of the ancient Maya have proven to play a significant part in Maya iconography. Animals have been used for everything from representing Maya gods with strong spirituality connections, to being used as food or companionship.

Images of animals generally have bodies and physical features like animals of the natural world. However, they move and behave like human beings (as do contemporary animal cartoon characters). They participate in a variety of Underworld activities, including acting as scribes and playing instruments in Underworld musical bands. In the Underworld, animals are intelligent: they are the first generation of creatures made by the gods, and they behave like men. (Schele and Miller 43).

Zoomorphic depictions such as the jaguar, spider monkey and frogs/toads dominate ceramic images when animals are present. Deer, a significant source of meat for the ancient Maya elite, and a host of other animals dominate the Madrid codex. Masks depicting the jaguar and monkey were made by Maya artisans. Gods such as GIII (Jaguar God), Vision Serpent and Celestial Bird appear throughout Maya art. Bats and other nocturnal creatures symbolize the dark underworld. Zoomorphs regularly appear at Quiriquá, Guatemala.

Zoomorphs may display human or animal characteristics, but their appearance is not naturalistic. Their overall form may derive from a particular animal— such as a bird, crocodile or deer— but because their features combine those of several animals, they would never be mistaken for creatures of the natural world. (Schele and Miller 43).

This database, like that of its sister database on the plants of the ancient Maya is a work in progress. Although over 600 species can be found on the site, only approximately 40 have been matched to ceramic images. Information contained on the site includes the family, genus and species names. The authority (the person who first named the animal) and the date this occurred are also included. Details on the approximately 40 animals that have been matched to ceramic depictions include photos of the ceramic(s) and of the animal and include information on possible interpretation.

Some of the animals on the list are endangered or threatened due to the loss of habitat. Clear cutting for farming and grazing have put these animals in jeopardy. More needs to be done to save these animals and the environment they live in. National parks and reserves, accessible to indigenous healers, are a viable alternative to the current path of destruction, but this is not enough. Donations to Rain Forest Rescue, an Arbor Day Foundation program, go toward the purchase of tropical land. Donors receive a certificate depicting the animals and plants they are aiding. Other organizations include Rainforest Foundation and Tropical Rainforest Coalition among others working hard to save these precious regions of the world.

Note: Justin Kerr's photographic archive is the main source of Maya artifacts images. Wikipedia is the main source of Central American animal images unless otherwise noted.

Working Maya Fauna List
Related Links
Related Research Papers and Articles
Author Biography
Review Committee & Fauna List Under Investigation


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