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Celine Tamignaux

Hand Gestures in Maya Iconography: Typology, Context and Signification


Being essentially a courtly art, Mayan art and its iconography depict a number of key moments in the life of the elite, including: investitures, allegiances, presentations of tributes, etc. It is also an accurate art concerned with details. In particular, the thoroughness with which the arms, hands and fingers of the characters are represented leads us to believe that they draw gestures which were meaningful. This idea, which is supported notably by the recent contribution of epigraphy, is also strengthened by the fact that everywhere in the world the hand is used – and was used - as a mean of expression. Gestures always complemented and supported speech.

My thesis project therefore proposes to study, in a systematic way the entire Mayan iconography as well as the hands and recurrent gestures for the Classic period (250- 900 PCN) mainly. I will consider the meaning of each gesture and see which are the mechanisms underlying the gestural system as a whole. The spatial and temporal variability of these elements will also be taken into account, as they might be related to a specific regional identity.

Far from being merely a study of details, this examination of Mayan gestures will lead to a better understanding of the different spheres of Mayan society, such as power relations and even religious rituals. In all cultures, gestures make sense and by taking them into account a new key for interpreting the Mayan world will be revealed.


Betreuer: Prof. Dr. Nikolai Grube

Kontakt: ctamigna (at)