Charlie Chaplin: The silent figure of the Classic Period Maya Lowlands


May. 10, 2021, 11:30am to 12:30pm

Office/Remote Location



Speaker: Dr. Lisa Johnson, UNLV

Title: Charlie Chaplin: The silent figure of the Classic Period Maya Lowlands

Abstract: In this talk, I will discuss a category of artifacts labelled “Charlie Chaplin” figures.  These small abstract human forms incised onto jadeite, shell, slate, and bone have been found in great numbers in ritual contexts throughout the Maya Lowland Region.  What began as a small literature review and a hunt through turn of the century archaeological monographs has become a project of multiple dimensions. As I periodically return to this study, it has been a repeated attempt to move beyond dated nomenclature that effectively trivialized an important ritual object and give serious consideration to the representation of the human form as a sensually stimulating object.  Figurine studies often follow numerous approaches to analyzing and interpreting anthropomorphic artifacts.  This talk will present one approach to interpreting these objects, one in which linguistic, ethnographic, and archeological evidence is brought together to consider the various roles they may have served in ancient Maya ritual practice. But I also want to consider their potential to affect those that crafted and used them, as well as those that would later excavate, analyze, illustrate and publish on them. The “Charlie Chaplin” figurine provides an opportunity to explore the ways in which objects can impress themselves upon us, draw our attention, and refuse to be “silenced.”



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Contact Information

Department of Anthropology
Liam Frink

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