Quetzal in Mayan codices
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COPPERY-TAILED TROGAN or QUETZAL (Pharomacrus mocinno). The quetzal is common locally in certain parts of southern Mexico. Its brilliant metallic green plumage and the greatly elongated tail feathers make it a very notable bird.
The feathers of the head are erect and stand out as a light crest, those of the anterior portion being slightly recurved. The delicate erect feathers of the head are well indicated in Vaticanus 3773, 17 (Pl. 24, fig. 9) and the tail, also, in this figure, is only slightly conventionalized with an upward instead of the natural downward sweep. In most of the representations, the crest feathers are indicatd by large plumes, the most anterior of which project forward. They may be even further modified into three knobs shown in Dresden 7c (Pl. 24, fig. 1).
The two characteristics of the quetzal, namely its erect head feathers and its extraordinarily long tail feathers, are often used separately. Thus the tail, which is commonly drawn with the outer feather of each side strongly curled forward, appears by itself in Pl. 24, fig. 8, or it may be seen as a plume in the head-dress of a priest or warrior and in other connections as an ornament. A greatly conventionalized drawing of the bird is also shown in Pl. 24, fig. 11, in which the head bears a curious knob and the dorsal feather of the tail is upcurled in the manner of the other drawings. It is not at once apparent why the long drooping tail feathers should be shown thus recurved. Possibly these feathers, when used by the Mayas for plumes, curled over by their own weight, if held erect, so that the representations are a compromise between the natural appearance and that when used as ornament in the head decoration.
PAPERS OF THE PEABODY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGY AND ETHNOLOGY, HARVARD UNIVERSITY VOL. IV.—No. 3. ANIMAL FIGURES IN THE MAYA CODICES
BY ALFRED M. TOZZER, PH.D. AND GLOVER M. ALLEN, PH.D.
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. PUBLISHED BY THE MUSEUM FEBRUARY, 1910