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The Beast Between

The Beast Between
Deer Imagery in Ancient Maya Art

The first book to focus on the multifaceted images of deer and hunting in ancient Maya art, from the award-winning author of To Be Like Gods: Dance in Ancient Maya Civilization.

Series: The Linda Schele Endowment in Maya and Pre Columbian Studies

April 2019
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288 pages | 7 x 10 | 20 b&w photos, 170 b&w illus. |

The white-tailed deer had a prominent status in Maya civilization; it was the most important wild-animal food source at many inland Maya sites and also functioned as a major ceremonial symbol. Offering an in-depth semantic analysis of this imagery, The Beast Between considers iconography, hieroglyphic texts, mythological discourses, and ritual narratives to translate the significance and meaning of the vibrant metaphors expressed in a variety of artifacts depicting deer and hunting.

Charting the progression of deer as a key component of the Maya diet, especially for elites, to the coupling of deer and maize in the Maya worldview, The Beast Between reveals a close and long-term interdependence. Not only are deer depicted naturalistically in hunting and ritual scenes, but they are also ascribed with human attributes. This rich imagery reflects the many ways in which deer hunting was linked to status, sexuality, and war as part of a deeper process to ensure the regeneration of both agriculture and ancestry. Drawing on methodologies of art history, archaeology, and ethnology, this illuminating work is poised to become a key resource for multiple fields.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Deer Life: The Maya Ethnobiology of Deer
  • Chapter 2. Bones to Picks: The Classic Maya Use and Depiction of Durable Deer Remains
  • Chapter 3. Big Bucks: Deer and Social Status
  • Chapter 4. Wearing the Horns: Deer, Sexuality, and Fertility in “Dying God” Scenes
  • Chapter 5. Locking Horns: Deer Hunting, Warfare, the Ballgame, and Male Rites of Passage
  • Chapter 6. Hart’s Devotion: The Siip in Classic and Postclassic Maya Society
  • Chapter 7. A Sinking Hart: The Solar Symbolism of Deer in Maya Art
  • Chapter 8. Deer Departed: Cervid Spirits of Death and Disease
  • Epilogue. Out of the Woods: Deer and Borders
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Matthew Looper
Chico, California

Looper is a professor of art and art history at California State University, Chico. His previous books include To Be Like Gods: Dance in Ancient Maya Civilization, winner of the 2010 Association for Latin American Art Book Award; Gifts of the Moon: Huipil Designs of the Ancient Maya; Lightning Warrior: Maya Art and Kingship at Quirigua; and, most recently, Wearing Culture: Dress, Regalia, and Adornment in Early Mesoamerica and Central America, co-edited with Heather Orr.