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Vital Voids

Vital Voids
Cavities and Holes in Mesoamerican Material Culture

An innovative study argues that in Mesoamerica, holes were conceived and produced as conduits of vital forces and material abundance, prerequisites for the emergence of life.

June 2021
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165 pages | 7 x 10 | 88 color and 13 b&w photos, 6 color and 14 b&w illus. |

The Resurrection Plate, a Late Classic Maya dish, is decorated with an arresting scene. The Maize God, assisted by two other deities, emerges reborn from a turtle shell. At the center of the plate, in the middle of the god’s body and aligned with the point of emergence, there is a curious sight: a small, neatly drilled hole.

Art historian Andrew Finegold explores the meanings attributed to this and other holes in Mesoamerican material culture, arguing that such spaces were broadly understood as conduits of vital forces and material abundance, prerequisites for the emergence of life. Beginning with, and repeatedly returning to, the Resurrection Plate, this study explores the generative potential attributed to a wide variety of cavities and holes in Mesoamerica, ranging from the perforated dishes placed in Classic Maya burials, to caves and architectural voids, to the piercing of human flesh. Holes are also discussed in relation to fire, based on the common means through which both were produced: drilling. Ultimately, by attending to what is not there, Vital Voids offers a fascinating approach to Mesoamerican cosmology and material culture.

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. What’s in a Hole? Material Culture and Interpretation
  • Chapter 2. Perforated Vessels: Revitalizing the Discourse Surrounding “Kill Holes”
  • Chapter 3. Cavities in the Living Earth
  • Chapter 4. The Act of Drilling
  • Chapter 5. Perforating the Body
  • Chapter 6. Conclusions: Beyond the Resurrection Plate
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Andrew Finegold is an assistant professor of art history at the University of Illinois at Chicago and was founding president of the Pre-Columbian Society of New York. He is coeditor of Visual Culture of the Ancient Americas: Contemporary Perspectives and maintains the blog Ancient Americas, Appropriated: Modern Representations of the Pre-Columbian Past.


“Andrew Finegold’s fascinating book explores the role of openings–or holes–in Mesoamerican material culture. Analyzing the meanings of voids in art and architecture, he suggests that these openings allow vital energies to move between objects and material and exist as part of rituals significant to Amerindian peoples. He demonstrates that these spaces or voids are not ‘negative’ for Mesoamerican peoples but rather are filled with energy and active forces, and therefore are an important part of ritual ideology and performance. Using an innovative combination of sources, Finegold illustrates the importance of active voids in the landscape, architecture, and art, and even in the Mesoamerican body.”
Elizabeth Morán, Christopher Newport University, author of Sacred Consumption: Food and Ritual in Aztec Art and Culture


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca