A Mayan Teotihuacan Stone Figure of a Merchant, ca. 600 - 800 A.D.

of carved brownish-gray hard stone, with circular grinding palette on top of the head, the facial features beautifully rendered, portraying a seated figure holding with both hands a mecapal or tumpline - a strip of cotton or woven sisal fiber - that secures a large bundle on his back, protecting the head and neck and at the same time balancing the load and distributing the weight.  

From the Preclassic period, laid roads allowed travelers and their goods to navigate large distances. As they traveled, they brought goods and ideas, thus interlinking areas to form a region with its own characteristics; the geographical area called Mesoamerica. Its inhabitants, unlike almost all other peoples of the earth, lacked draft animals to help them transport their products.  Many boats utilized the waterways, traveling the long rivers and lakes located many miles from the coast, that represented a considerable saving in energy and labor. However, not all routes had waterways, particularly in the mountains and the rivers were sometimes violent and difficult to navigate. For long trips, a sophisticated transport system therefore developed where goods were carried on a man's back through a network of markets along trade routes. Broadly speaking,  Mesoamerica had two types of traders: the farmer who travelled to nearby markets carrying goods himself and a merchant specializing in long-distance trade utilizing either tribute labor or through some form of barter.

This trading system required the instrument that was one of the great inventions of Mesoamerica: the mecapal, a device consisting of a band made ​​of cotton or woven sisal fiber, secured to cords at both ends to hold the object load. The band was placed on the forehead to protect the head and neck, balance the package from the front and distribute the weight of the load down the spine.  It was used to carry all kinds of goods;  some products were tied directly to the mecapal, such as wood and reeds or items packed in sacks. Others required different kinds of boxes or trellises that served to support goods ranging from animals to small and fragile objects. More complex mecapals had ledges upon which were tied ceramic pots and gourds to transport liquid (e.g. honey), seeds (amaranth and others) and powders or dyes (cochineal, vermilion and other mineral oxides).   Modern highland Mayans of southern Mexico still use the mecapal today for various pedestrian transport.

Condition: Intact and in excellent condition overall.

Dimensions: Height: 6 inches (15.24 cm)

Provenance: Private NYC collection, acquired in the1960s.


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