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Potbelly sculpture is one type of stone monuments from Southeastern Mesoamerica that was distributed on the Pacifi c slope and piedmont and in the Guatemalan Highlands. They represent seated fi gures of obese persons with arms clasping pot-like bellies, fat cheeks and closed eyes with puffy lids. The largest number of these monuments was found at Tak’alik Abaj and Monte Alto on the Pacifi c slope and at Kaminaljuyu in the Valley of Guatemala. Although it was widely believed that these crude fi gures predate Early Formative Olmec sculpture and could serve as its source, the earliest potbelly sculptures date to the late Middle Formative (ca. 650–500 BC). The splendor of this tradition can be dated between 500 BC and AD 100. Despite several decades of their research, the functions of the potbellies are still a matter of discussion. The sculptures were set up in the open ceremonial spaces of Late Formative chiefl y centers; at Santa Laticia where the original context was preserved, they were oriented to the neighboring mountain, which according to Mesoamerican beliefs was the dwelling place of the ancestors. In the paper major styles of potbelly tradition are redefi ned and their principal traits are revised. All the analyzed evidence show that potbellies were part of the ancestor worship and probably depicted deceased chiefs. Their extraordinary obesity is related to the local Pacifi c Coast variant of the concept of “Flowery World” that emphasized the abundance of the food and other riches sent to the descendants by the ancestors.


Mesoamerica, Late Formative, monumental sculpture, ancestor worship, ethnosemiotics.

Dmitri D. Belyaev

Russian State University for the Humanities;

Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology named after N.N. Miklouho-Maclay RAS, Moscow, Russia

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