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Incense Burners

Submitted by mccaffer on Fri, 03/07/2008 - 1:29pm

Four types of incense burners were identified during the ceramic analysis: sahumadores, carved-lattice censers, braseros, and lantern censers. Of these, fragments of sahumadores and carved-lattice censers were only recovered in the sherd bags. Braseros and lantern censers were occasionally identified in the field and given object numbers, while adornos (ceramic decoration appliqued to braseros) were also collected as ceramic objects.

Research objectives relating to the analysis of incense burners include their role in ritual practice, while a spatial analysis can potentially identify concentrations of these objects that could be interpreted as ritual areas associated with the structural compounds.

Sahumadores and carved-lattice censers both consist of a bowl in which incense could be burned, and a long handle. Pre-Columbian pictorial manuscripts depict sahumadores being carried in processions and used in offerings (Fig. 1). Sahumadores from Cholula usually occur in the San Pedro Polished Red type, with vessel decoration including vertical bands of graphite paint and incising. Decorated sahumador handles are illustrated in Müller (1978:166-167), with duck heads as a common motif.

Carved-lattice censers are miniature ollas with two short supports and a longer third support that also served as a handle. The sides of the bowl are carved away in a "lattice" pattern, so that the smoke could escape through the sides. These are often refered to as "Mixtec censers" since they have also been found in the Mixteca Alta of Oaxaca.

Braseros are a distinctive vessel form with a primarily ceremonial function. They generally consist of a thick, poorly made body, to which were attached different kinds of decorative adornment (adornos). Decorated braseros were depicted in pre-Columbian codices in ritual contexts (Fig. 2). Many of the UA-1 braseros consisted of large, conical vessels of the Cerro Zapotecas Sandy Plain type, covered with white stucco, and occasionally painted with green, blue, and black. Appended to these vessels were appliqué decorations, including adornos, pinched spikes, and braided clay ropes around the rim. Müller (1978:128, plate 4-1; 205, plate 46-d,e) illustrates several complete braseros from the Cholula ceremonial center.

A second type of brasero is similar to what Sisson (1990) termed a "large xantil" (god-censer) from Coxcatlán. These are biconical vessels with anthropomorphic figures appliquéd to the exterior wall. Diagnostic details of specific deities provided Sisson with a basis for identifying the gods Tlazolteotl, Xochipilli, and Tezcatlipoca. In Coxcatlán, large xantiles and smaller variations were found in domestic contexts, and Sisson suggested that they were associated with household altars (1973, 1974, 1990). Similar braseros are illustrated by Müller (1978:204-205, plates 45-6) from Cholula.

Several examples of biconical xantiles were found in situ within Structure 1, including UA-1 #9327 and #10896 (Figs. 3 and 4). Object #9327 was a nearly complete vessel, approximately 30 cm in height, with the fragmentary anthropomorphic appliqué consisting of two legs with elaborate sandals; vestiges of a neck, upper torso and arms; an intact earplug with a second partial earplug; and a rectangular pendant suspended by a cord that ended with a tassel hung over the shoulder. An upright crescent motif on the pendant possibly identifies this figure as the goddess Tlazolteotl. Object #10896 was a similar vessel form, but the fragmentary anthropomorphic figure was different. This figure consisted of a left leg with sandal, the neck and torso, and the left arm. Vestigial clay indicated where earplugs were probably attached. This individual wore a rounded cape and had a necklace with unidentifiable pendant. A round shield was attached to the arm, and the arm was covered with three bracelets, or perhaps cotton armor. It is impossible to identify this figure with any specific deity of the central Mexican pantheon, and while the presence of a shield and armor is suggestive of a male warrior, it is not conclusive since many female deities were depicted with shields.

A final type of incense burner found at UA-1 was termed a "lantern censer" because of its similarity to a hanging lantern (Fig. 5). These had a small disk for a base, and a domed roof supported by three posts. A loop handle on the top would have allowed these objects to be suspended. A thick layer of soot was common on the ceiling of the censer, probably as the result of burning incense. Similar censers were found by Müller (1978:128-129, figs. 1 and 2) and at UA-79.

Two concentrations of incense burners occurred at Structure 1 (Fig. 6): in Room 3, especially near the altar and the "brasero niche;" and in the trash midden. The most significant of these objects were the three xantil-style braceros (UA-1 #9327, #10648, and #10896) found in situ in the "brasero niche" to the north of the altar (Fig. 7). The location of xantil-type braseros in a niche adjacent to a raised platform is similar to the typical context found at Coxcatlán (Sisson 1973, 1974, 1990), where they were associated with domestic ritual.

The quantity and diversity of incense burners at UA-1 implies an importance for ritual practice within the structural compounds. Based on ethnohistoric accounts, the altar was a fundamental aspect of household ritual. The spatial distribution of xantiles at Coxcatlán clearly indicates their role in household practice (Sisson 1981, 1990). The presence of incense burners at UA-1 is therefore consistent with the hypothesis that the Structure 1 compound was a locus of domestic activities

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