Winklil: The Human Body in Ancient Mayan Art

Curated by Dominic Henry

The Americas

Before invasion by Europeans, the indigenous people of the Western hemisphere had already created intricate cities, empires, trade systems, and art. From Pueblo Bonito in the Southwest to Chavín de Huántar in the Andes, each civilization was unique and manifested ties to the environment. Like the Egyptians and Romans, the native civilizations of the Americas made many achievements, radiating a wealth of traditions.

The Maya

The NunneryThe NunneryDetail of the Nunnery showing a model of a local dwelling.

Ancient Maya (Uxmal, Yucatan, Mexico)
Mayavase K4452C
© Justin Kerr
Human head (3-D)Human head (3-D)Clay
Mesoamerican, n.d.
Courtesy of Jason S. Ordaz and SAR. Request a free pair of 3-D glasses.
The NunneryHuman head (3-D)
Human head (3-D)Human head (3-D)Clay
Mesoamerican, n.d.
Courtesy of Jason S. Ordaz and SAR

Build your own 3-D glasses (PDF, 315 KB) or visit Southwest Crossroads in 3-D to receive a free pair.
Human head (3-D)

The ancient Maya were a complex and highly skilled civilization who dominated much of Central America. Their lands engulfed present-day southeastern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The era of this sophisticated society spanned more than 3,000 years consisting of three separate periods: the Pre-Classic Period ranged from 2000 BC to 250 AD, the Classic from 250 AD to 900 AD, and Post-Classic, from about 900 AD to 1500 AD.


Winklil is the Yucatec Maya word for body. For this exhibit, winklil will be used to reference the human body and will be a means of exploring the rich and complex world of Mayan art. As you journey through this environment, segments of the culture will be represented by art displaying winklil aesthetics. Moreover, you will see that each discussion references a part of the winklil in the Yucatec Maya language.

The human body was a common motif used by Mayan artists in wide range of media and techniques. Examples of this skill can be found on three-dimensional figurines and architecture. Artists created sculptures formed by bare hands using clay or molds. On buildings, human forms were crafted from stucco and limestone using tools. Originally painted, these forms now appear largely unpainted due to natural wear.

Ancient Maya art from the island of Jaina and other parts of Mesoamerica are presented in this exhibit. References to native cultures of the Southwest and the Andes are also acknowledged by pieces depicting human body aesthetics, adding to the scope of this broad and captivating topic.

Sponsored by Anne Ray Charitable Trust

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