Jaina-Style Figurines

Chemistry, variability and provenience of Jaina Figurines: a multi scale & multianalytical approach

Ioanna Kakoulli (UCLA), Christian Fischer (UCLA), Sandra L. López Varela (UNAM), Christian de Brer (Fowler Museum, UCLA), Carinne Tzadik (UCLA) and Kim Richter (Getty Research Institute)

The islet of Jaina located 42 km north of Campeche is considered among the elite Maya sites and necropoleis (burial grounds) of the Late Classic period (circa AD 600-800). The first seasons of archaeology in the early twentieth century and later additional excavations during the next two decades unearthed a very large number of ceramic figurines within burial deposits. The aesthetics and delicate plasticity of these figurines together with increased publication of the archaeology of Jaina has also led to an accelerated destruction of the site due to plundering and illicit traffic of Jaina materials to feed the Pre-Columbian antiquities market.  Moreover, in more recent years Jaina figurine reproductions (fakes) imitating and sold as ancient figurines have also been introduced in the antiquities market. Several of these unknown-origin figurines currently in museum collections could be both illicitly excavated and traded artifacts, as well as, fakes. In most cases these were acquired through donations and purchases and attributed to a Jaina origin subsequent to the acquisition. As such, this has incited numerous and unanswered archaeological and research questions, many of which we have attempted to address as part of a collaborative effort to study (technically) the ‘undocumented’ figurines housed at the Fowler Museum at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and the well-provenanced figurines – obtained from the site of Jaina – and now in the Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia-INAH) Center in Campeche, the Fuerte-Museo San Miguel and the Museo Arqueológico de Hecelchakán.

Methods of analysis were based primarily on non-invasive field deployable technology for the study of the ceramic body and pigmented surfaces and included: fiber optic reflectance spectroscopy (FORS) in the ultraviolet/visible and near infrared (UV/VNIR) and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectroscopy. Overall, about 150 Jaina figurines were analyzed from the collections in Mexico and the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Selected figurines from the latter were also examined using spectral imaging and small samples were also analyzed using electron microscopy. The application of FORS-UV/VNIR combined with XRF spectroscopy was particularly successful at providing key information on the material’s composition without physical sampling.

The collected data have allowed the identification of several compositional groups based on the concentrations of major, minor and trace elements in the ceramic body, as well as, of the types of pigments used for decoration. Analysis of the compositional data obtained for the body indicated important variations in trace elements such as Zr, Sr, Ni, Cr and Ti, reflecting the different nature and/or source of the clay materials and temper. For example, the group of the ‘Teotihuacan/Veracruz’ figurines was clearly isolated based on the very low chromium levels (< 30 ppm) whereas for the others, the chromium concentrations varied from about 100 to almost 2000 ppm. FORS spectral data indicated that the yellowish to reddish colors of the body were primarily due to the presence of goethite and hematite. Results on the polychromy of the figurines have shown the use of Maya blue and hematite-rich red ochre. For the whites, a clay-based material was often encountered, especially for a group of figurines with stylistic elements from Teotihuacan and Veracruz. Gypsum (white) was also identified on selected figurines, though its presence could be due to weathering. The nature of the weathered surfaces was also investigated based on the levels of chlorine and sulfur, which demonstrated to be good proxies for the associated weathering products.

To further understand the complex issues of provenance and to clarify production variability, compositional data are currently processed together with qualitative variables related to style, iconography and color using multivariate statistics complemented by the analysis of representative microsamples using advanced imaging and spectroscopic techniques.Figure_1 copy