Shell Gorgets & Artifacts Of The Maya

The Maya used shells for gorgets, paint containers, mask and pendants for cloths. Justin Kerr has given us permission to post pictures from his website of the following shell items.  Mr. Kerr has co-authored works with some of the most noted people in the study of the ancient Maya and their culture. He has spent many years studying the Maya and their writings. He has also learned to read the ancient glyphs.

Tom Gidwitz wrote an article on the Kerrs (Justin & Barbara) for The Archaeology Magazine and said:

"The Kerrs' enthusiasm for Pre-Columbian art has inspired Justin to become a teacher, epigrapher, publisher, and inventor. His wife Barbara is now a restorer of damaged pots and sculptures. From the beginning, their goal, Kerr says, has been 'to reach back through the centuries and capture today on film something of the mind and spirit of the great Maya people.'

With his homemade peripheral camera, Justin Kerr has made rollout photographs of thousands of Maya cylinder vases, providing scholars with an indispensable tool for understanding the themes of Maya art. With a single exposure this camera turns a cylindrical vase into a flat panorama, all of its enigmatic characters visible at once, like players interacting on a stage. Now, this Bronx-born former fashion photographer is helping Mayanists make new discoveries with his books, journals, and symposia, and the thousands of images he distributes for free.
Kerr now speaks at museums and conferences across the country. In 1989, they published The Maya Vase Book, a collection of rollouts and essays by leading Mayanists. Printed at their own expense, the series now numbers six volumes. Says Coe, 'There's few people who can beat Justin out on Maya scholarship now.'
Now virtually every new publication about the Maya contains at least one of Kerr's pictures."

("Picture Perfect" by Tom Gidwitz  Archaeology Magazine, Volume 56 Number 6, November/December 2003) 

We thank them for allowing to post these pictures. In accordance with Mr. Kerr's wishes we ask that you abide by the copyrighted regulations. See also TERMS OF USE at the bottom of the page. Thank you and enjoy the pictures.
 (Courtesy Justin Kerr)

 Photographs © Justin Kerr
All rights reserved.
May not be reproduced without
permission of the copyright owner.



Photograph K413 © Justin Kerr
An example of a rollout from a vase. It takes the cylindrical picture on the vase and makes a flattened comprehensive picture where all of the details can readily be seen in their entirety at once. 


Photograph K1817a © Justin Kerr
Huastec Shell - 16 cm. Incised section of conch shell

 Photograph K1817b © Justin Kerr
Huastec Shell - 16 cm. Incised section of conch shell.


Photograph K 2817 © Justin Kerr
Maya carved shell. dia 8.9 cm. Disks carved with images of a captive bound at the wrists. He wears a trophy head on his belt. Published The Blood of Kings plate 83. The Denver Art Museum


Photograph K 2825 © Justin Kerr
Portrait of an Early Classic Maya Ruler on shell. height 29.3 cm. Incised conch. Published The Blood of Kings pl. 27. The Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth.


Photograph K 3481© Justin Kerr
Maya conch shell with cinnabar in the painting. Shell trumpet (musical instrument) with incised portrait of ruler. Published The Face of Ancient America p.124


Photograph K 4882 © Justin Kerr
Maya shell showing a seated figure of captive. Excavated Mundo Perdido, Tikal, Guatemala. The National Museum of Guatemala. Museum no. 11496.



Photograph K 5086 © Justin Kerr
Pair of shell disks with portrait of ruler wearing yax signs around his mouth as well as ear disks, diameter 6.0 cm.



Photograph K 5089 © Justin Kerr
Maya shell appliqué. height 12.5 cm. Carved with portrait of an individual gazing at a floating deity surmounted by a jaguar. A glyphic passage is in the border.


Photograph K 5342 © Justin Kerr
Maya conch shell. a scribe's paint container. The Princeton Art Museum, Princeton, NJ [private collection]. Published in Painting the Maya Universe.


 Maya ceramic artist's palette - Excavated from burial 116 Tikal- Guatemala. Imix Complex The vessel in the form of a slice of conch shell. The shape represents an artist's paint container. The glyph in the center reads 'kuch sabak' container for ink.


Photograph K 6030 © Justin Kerr
Maya shell of the Early Classic Period  height 4.6 cm. Pair of appliqués in the form of portraits.


Photoghraph K 6031b © Justin Kerr
Maya shell pendant showing a man seated cross leg on a cushion. He holds a deity head in his hands. He is a hunchback and leans against another larger deity head. Diameter 5.7 cm.


Photograph K 6142 © Justin Kerr
Olmec - Jaguar pendant of shell. length 11.2 cm. Pendant is of a stalking feline.


Photograph K 6143 © Justin Kerr
Olmec - length 11.7 cm. Shell pendant of an alligator or crocodile with jade inserts.


Photograph K 6207 © Justin Kerr
Post or late Olmec. Mother of pearl shell maskette pieced to wear as pendant. ht. 8.3 cm. The Library of Congress, J. Kislak Collection



Photograph K 6289 © Justin Kerr
Maya shell disk with incised portrait. diameter 6.6 cm  The Jay I. Kislak Foundation, Miami Lakes, Florida




 Photograph K 6725 © Justin Kerr
Maya shell ear disk - diameter 6.35 cm. The disks have points and are incised with profiles.




Photograph K 7049 © Justin Kerr
Maya shell paint container with incised design of vision serpent. height 13.2 cm



 Photograph K 7050 © Justin Kerr
Maya shell from the Early Classic period - height 7.1 cm. Simon Martin suggests a crab claw made of two shells. Incised with 3 profiles.


                                                           Photograph K7449 © Justin Kerr
Maya shell pendant in the form of a flower with an animated spider monkey in the center. Approximate height 8.89 cm.




 Photograph K 7450 © Justin Kerr
Maya Shell pendant or appliqué for clothing in the form of a flower with a portrait of an elite woman. Approximate height 7 cm.


  Photograph K 7543 © Justin Kerr
Maya pair of shell disks in the form of a YAX symbol. An old feathered deity holds a deer suggesting the deer sacrifice. The deity may be God L and is another version of a deity riding and animal diameter 6.4 cm.



Photograph K 8090  © Justin Kerr
Portrait of a seated Maya dignitary incised on the inside of a shell.




Photograph K 8309 © Justin Kerr
Maya Shell face pendant



 Photograph K 8248 © Justin Kerr
Maya shell with greenstone inserts. width 16.8 cm. Portrait of dignitary in cartouche with deities emerging.



 Photograph K 8341© Justin Kerr
Maya shell disks showing the Maize God seated holding an abstract serpent bar with water lilies. dia.8.2 cm.




 Photograph K 8895 © Justin Kerr
Maya shell of the Early Classic Period, showing a portrait of a ruler. One hand is visible in the lower register. Ht. approx. 10cm.



 Photograph K 2843 © Justin Kerr
Maya shell applique' -  height 7.7 cm. This carved shell represents the day Ahaw. It may be a symbolic reference to the beginning of Maya time; 4 Ahaw 8 Kumku. Published The Blood of Kings PL. 24. The Art Museum, Princeton University, Prineton, NJ PUAM# 1983-51




 Photograph K 5824 © Justin Kerr
Teotihuacán - Made of limestone, to appear as a feathered conch shell with incised circles. Height 29.2 cm


Photograph K 6764 © Justin Kerr
Maya Jaina figure of clay. height 17.8 cm. Standing man with broken nose. Scarification on forehead and three holes in his ears. He wears a large shell as a pendant. This shows that even the large shell gorgets were worn suspended from the neck.


 Photograph K 6590 © Justin Kerr
Maya Jaina figure with traces of paint on the clay. height 23.4 cm. Dignitary wearing elaborate headdress and necklace with shell. He also wears cheek pieces. The shells demonstrate the placing of the suspension cords for wearing around the neck. The shells worn in the ears have the holes cut in the center of the shell.

 TERMS OF USE - click here:

 Photographs © Justin Kerr
All rights reserved.
May not be reproduced without
permission of the copyright owner.