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Eccentric, Rosalila cache, Copan (Artifact 90-10) (CPN P2764)

By Peabody Museum on Sketchfab

From "Individual Descriptions of Bifaces and Eccentrics" by Payson Sheets. Appendix to Protecting Sacred Space: Rosalila's Eccentric Chert Cache at Copan and Eccentrics among the Classic Maya by Ricardo Agurcia Fasquelle, Payson Sheets, and Karl Andreas Taube (Monograph 2, Precolumbia Mesoweb Press, San Francisco, 2016):

This magnificently crafted eccentric has four human heads and thus would be a quadracephalic eccentric in the terminology of Clark et al. (John E. Clark, Fred W. Nelson, and Gene L. Titmus, "Flint Effigy Eccentrics." In Ancient Maya Art at Dumbarton Oaks, edited by Joanne Pillsbury, Miriam Doutriaux, Reiko Ishihara-Brito, and Alexandre Tokovinine. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., 2012). The artisan had exceptional control of all stages of manufacture that are preserved on this artifact, from early percussion shaping and thinning, through indirect percussion for most of the flaking, and finally with pressure flaking. Of all the eccentrics in this cache, this one presented the greatest challenge in manufacture due to the hollow space achieved above the principal figure’s head. Just the slightest misapplication of force would have snapped the thin bridge. Difficulties such as step or hinge fractures are rare, and only one break was discerned, and that probably occurred in manufacture. If the break occurred in handling between the workshop and caching, it likely would have broken a larger portion of the artifact, given the extraordinary fragility of the uppermost third, above the face of the principal figure. The break is at the very top of the piece where a curving element is missing, estimated to have been about 10–15 mm in length.

Length (height) 440 mm. Width 145 mm. Thickness 14.5 mm. Weight 524 grams.

The stem retains a significant amount of cortex, measuring 25.4 by 4.7 mm. And the base of the stem has a small flat facet, common with these eccentrics from Rosalila and with one of the small bifaces. Whether these facets are manufactured or are a remnant of original conditions prior to manufacture, like the cortex, is unknown. But their prevalence indicates that they were important and must have had symbolic and perhaps powerful meaning. The facets may somehow be connected with the carbonate cortex, contexts, and origins.

The first feature of the primary figure one sees above the stem appears to be a leg, and if this is correct he is in a seated position. The lower part of the leg features oblique notching pointed downward, created by six notches resulting in six "teeth" which probably represent lightning.

Behind the leg is a human head with oblique notching pointed down and inward, achieved by eight notches leaving eight teeth. The headdress has two oblique notches creating three downward angled teeth and a nicely formed thin curving element at the top.

This eccentric is unusual in this group in having almost perfectly straight lines of the stem continuing up through the principal figure's chest, neck, and back. The principal figure's arm has an upturned hand pointing to the face, and that gesture may have a particular meaning. Above the head is a masterpiece of controlled flaking consisting of two decorated heads connected by a bridging element. Only the most highly skilled artisan could achieve a hollow space with thin circumferential elements without breaking it, and those potential breaks could have occurred by even slight misapplications of pressure or indirect percussion force at the many loci of fragility. Only a master could create a hollow space in a chert eccentric with such impressive flaking control resulting in such elegant detail. Those of us who do lithic manufacture are humbled by this accomplishment.

Above the principal figure's forehead is a smaller head with what looks like a diminutive arm and perhaps a leg. The figure has a smoking celt or torch on the forehead, a reference to K'awiil, the deity of lightning. Above the smoking celt are four oblique notches creating three forward-pointing teeth, likely representing lightning. Above them is the topmost curving element that is missing a few millimeters from its end. It appears to have been a manufacturing error. A thin bridge connects the back of the head to the back of the headdress of another human head. Atop that head are two relatively deep notches creating three large forward-projecting teeth. Below the figure's head is a small projection that likely is a stylized but very short arm/hand. And below that is a long pointed element with oblique notching. It has thirteen notches creating thirteen teeth, all pointed downward, and looking much like a lightning strike.

Considerable painting with cinnabar was done after the flaking was completed, especially on upper portions of the eccentric. The painting was followed by wrapping with blue and green fabric, and finally with barkcloth.

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