Maya artists produced world-class pottery. To make their pottery, the ancient Maya used clay from the riverbeds. They strengthened it by adding calcite, quartz, or volcanic ash.
The artists made clay pots for cooking, storing food, and for religious and medical purposes. Some of their pots were 5 feet high! Experts believe that the better quality pieces were made in the palace courts.
Maya potters used a device called K'abal.
Maya potters used clay coils to build their pots, which was a slow process. After building the coils up as high as they wanted, they smoothed the coils together with their fingers. They also used clay slabs to make ceramic boxes.
Potters may have used a device called a k’abal, which is a wooden platform that is rotated with the feet.
Much like a potter’s wheel is today, the k’abal would have been a big help to potters, allowing them to work on all sides of their piece without having to lift up the pot or change their sitting position.
To bake their unglazed pieces, Maya potters used low-temperature ovens heated by wood fires. These were often pits in the ground.
To decorate the pottery with scenes of court life, ceramists used slip paint, which is a mixture of finely ground pigment, clay, and water.
The heat of the ovens would have destroyed many of the dyes the potters could have used to decorate their pottery. So they used just a few colors that could stand up to the heat.
These included black made from manganese, yellows and browns made from limonite, and oranges and reds made from hematite.
These minerals are common throughout the Mesoamerican rainforest today.
Decorations on Maya Pottery
Potters usually outlined figures of animals and people in black, and used the yellows, browns, reds, and oranges to fill the figures in.
The artists who painted the pottery made their paint brushes by attaching animal hair bristles to a hollow tube.
They also used yucca fibers, which were easily pulled out of the yucca leaves like strands of thread.
To give their pieces a high gloss finish, experts believe Maya artists rubbed the pieces with a resin.
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