Friday, March 30, 2012

Ancient Maya Featherwork

Like other Mesoamerican cultures such as the Aztecs the ancient Maya made use of feathers as a source of artistry and personal adornment. Though the feathers of Maya feather work have long since rotted away, there is some information on the subject.

Kinds of feathers
The Maya used different kinds of birds as their sources of feathers. Of the different feathers, tail feathers of the male quetzal -- which are a shade of iridescent green and can grow up to a meter long -- were seen as the most beautiful. They were traded from the Maya highlands to the rest of the Maya world and beyond. It is understood that commoners were not allowed to use quetzal feathers, only the royalty.

Obtaining Feathers
Often, the Maya would pluck the feathers off the bird and then let the bird go. The Quiche Maya even had aviaries (enclosures for birds) in order to have a supply of feathers for their creative endeavors.

The ancient Maya incorporated feathers into clothing. They also used them to make decorations for spears and scepters, and in the making of fans, canopies, body ornaments, capes and shields.

Another use of feathers was in the making of headdresses. The ancient Maya made the headdresses by working feathers into wicker frames.


“The Ancient Maya”; Robert J. Sharer, Loa. P. Traxler; 2006

“The Ancient Maya”; Robert J. Sharer, Sylvanus Griswold Morley; 1994

"Animals and Plants of the Ancient Maya: A Guide"; Victoria Schlesinger; 2001

"Mayas, Aztecs, Incas: Cooperative Learning Activities"; Mary Strohl, Susan Schneck; 1995


  1. How much could one feather buy you? Please reply at my email I'm doing a world history report on the mayans Again Please respond

  2. The ancient Maya traded quetzal feathers over a wide area to the wealthy and ruling classes. Today the population of quetzals is dwindling so it is classified as near threatened. As a result quetzal feathers are illegal to buy in the U.S. and are protected in Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico and Guatemala.

    Related links:

    Animals and Plants of the Ancient Maya: A Guide; Victoria Schlesinger; 2002 - - In chapter 3 - Maya Culture-there is a section on the Market with a discussion about markets and trade -page 55.

    International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Pharomachrus mocinno: Magnificent Quetzal, Resplendent Quetzal

    BirdLife International: Resplendent Quetzal Pharomachrus mocinno