Posted by: Johan Normark | May 9, 2012

Water in and between other objects – vessels and age-grade rituals

One of the “case studies” in my water as an archaeological object project deals with artifacts either produced by the help of water or produced to deal with water in one way or another. Ceramic vessels are first modeled when the clay is wet but later in the process water needs to be removed by intense heat for the vessel to become a solid container for other liquids. At this stage the vessel enters other objects/assemblages of larger scales but shorter duration than the vessel itself. Liquid water was used in a short-term ritual event or feasting whereas an ancient ceramic vessel is still around. With a ceramic vessel water could be deterritorialized from larger bodies of water or be captured from rain and be reterritorialized at another location and with another object, such as young Maya men as discussed by Stephen Houston in a recent post.

In this post Steve refers to a three year old article where he suggested that  “pots with such labels could have been bestowed in the setting of age-grade rituals or promotions, a recognition of feasting and expensive drinks as markers of adult status, even trophies and material honours while in page service, ballplay or war” (Houston 2009:166). A vessel from Uaxactun contains a glyphic passage that names the drinking vessel (yuk’ib), the expression ti yax ch’ahb, “for the first fast/penance(?).” This is followed by the name of the owner, which is a ch’ok or “youth.” The vessel was apparently intended for an age-grade ritual. Steve is assured that “most such vessels marked and materialized shifts of status: a liquid passage from boyhood to the obligations of elite men.”

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