The eyes and ears may have been filled with incrustation of precious metals. The ears could also have worn earflares, like those the skeleton wears on the other side. The depression at the navel was probably used for ritual offerings.
Wow, this is amazing! Do you know what it represents?
This figure represents the duality of life and death. Here the cloth bundle is unwrapped, revealing the skeletal figure inside. It is from the Huastec culture of the Gulf Coast Mexico who flourished at the same time as the Aztec. It is possible that the skeletal figure represents a sacred ancestor whose skeleton was carried through the city by the somber young man during an important religious rite. The entire sculpture may be seen as a commemoration of that rite.
Scholars have suggested that the eyes and ears may have been filled with encrustation of precious metals or stones, and the ears could also have worn earflares, like those the skeleton wears on the other side. The navel might have been filled with offerings.
Why are there recessed areas in the eyes ears and navel?
The eyes and ears may have been filled with incrustation of precious metals or stones. The ears could also have worn earflares, like those the skeleton wears on the other side. The depression at the navel was probably used for ritual offerings.
Can you tell me more about the recessed areas?
The depression in the center was most likely used for ritual offerings. The eyes and ears may have been filled with incrustation of precious metals or stones.
Was this figure originally holding something it's right hand?
It doesn't look like anyone has written about what this sculpture might have been holding. Based on other elements of the piece I would speculate that it has something to do with life and death or the figure's status because that was very important thing to communicate in Mesoamerican art. Do you have any ideas?
A staff of some kind in wood perhaps. Was mixed media common in stonework?
That's an excellent idea! It's possible that a wooden staff was there and it has not survived. Mixed media was certainly common. This particular sculpture would have had inlays of precious stones or metals originally, for example.
Makes sense, thanks.
Do you know why there is a hole in this figured stomach?
Hi there! Great question! These cavities are common in Huastec sculptures and were probably used for ritual offerings.
Some scholars have also suggested that green stones, symbolizing the heart and its life force, may have been placed in those spaces, perhaps with the intention of animating these sculptures.
You can see that there are also holes in the eyes and ears, it's likely these spaces would have been filled with precious metals or stones. Or, the ears may have been filled with ear-flares, like what the skeleton wears on the opposite side--have you seen the back side yet?
Ah thanks for connecting the front and back! Didn't notice before.
No problem! It would be a shame to see this sculpture and miss out on the back. That is why it is called a "Life-Death Figure," because it represents both.
Would this have been painted all over when it was first made?
Yes! There are traces of pigment that remain on this Huastec figure. The pigments have faded and aren't super apparent to the naked eye. That being said we are not sure what colors would have originally appeared on the figure.
Is Huastec a culture group within Aztec civilization?
This Life-Death Figure is by a Huastec artist. It's so incredible. To answer your question, the Huastec culture thrived along the Gulf of Mexico before the establishment of Aztec culture in Mexico and, later, the Aztecs would conquer the Huastecs during the mid 15th century during the reign of Moctezuma I (1440-1469).
This work dates to the classical period of Huastec culture (900-1250), while it was only in the late 1100s/1200s that the first records of the Aztecs appear. However, the Aztecs were known to adopt established religious traditions and mix older figures with their own when they established themselves in the region.
Hmm interesting! #culturalexchange
What are the script or symbols on The Life-Death figure?
The decoration on the Huastec Life-Death figure includes a number of symbolic patterns and designs. Many (including ears of corn and astrological images such as the half-circles that are associated with the sun and the planet Venus) relate to fertility and agriculture. Many of these designs suggest the practice of body painting (or possibly even tattooing or scarification).
When this work was originally created, it's very likely that it would have been painted. The figure's attire may reflect some of the ritual regalia worn during Huastec religious ceremonies.
Where was this statue placed?
We're not sure exactly where the statue was placed,but scholars hypothesize that it may have been placed in a ceremonial center, perhaps as the focal point for religious ritual. The remarkable preservation of this sculpture suggests that its stood indoors.
Sweet, thank you.
What was the purpose of this figure, was it open to observation by the public?
Often, important Huastec notable men, women, and gods were immortalized in stone and placed in important public places. It was probably placed in a ceremonial center, perhaps as a focus point for religious ritual.
It appears that the head and right arm were disconnected from the body at one time; why is this?
It appears to me that this may have been a fracture sustained at one point during the life of this object. Over time, statues can topple over and break at their weakest points, such as the neck and shoulder area. Notes on the object's archaeological context are scarce.
It is thought to have been found at the ruins of Chilituju in San Luis Potosi, Mexico and then presented to the American Consul at Tampico, Tamaulipas Mexico. It was then donated to the New York Historical Society in 1844 and placed on long-term loan here at BKM in 1937.
Tell me more.
This Huastec Life-Death figure illustrates the duality of life and death. Dualism is often explored in Huastec and Aztec art. The front depicts the wind god, Ehecatl-Quetzacoatl and he carries a skeleton on his back.
Important individuals and deities were often immortalized in stone and placed in important public spaces. The remarkable preservation of this sculpture suggests to some scholars that it was placed indoors, perhaps in a shrine. The recessed area in the stomach was likely a receptacle for ritual offerings.
What does the hole in the stomach symbolize?
The whole in the stomach was thought to provide a space for ritual offerings. One theory suggests that it might have been a place for green stones, which symbolized the heart and it's life force. These were thought to animate or activate the figure.
Thank you for the answer!
Do you know why there are piercings in the ears and if they are important?
The large ear ornaments and the headdress identify this figure as the Aztec wind god, Ehecatl-Quetzacoatl. The holes in the ears may also have originally contained precious metal or even ear flares.
Why does the skeleton have talons?
The talons maybe a signifier of divine nature. Supernatural figures are often depicted as composite human-animal beings. Fierce birds of prey have talons such as these and their incorporation into the skeleton figure my be a reference to power.
Are the markings on the body scarification?
The majority of the designs are thought to represent body paint applied with small ceramic rollers but some may have been marked permanently on the body through tattooing and scarification.
Can you tell me why and how we know that the J shaped ear pendants indicate that this figure is the Aztec wind god, Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl?
Much of the iconography on the sculpture suggests that this was either a ruler or deity (the extensive body decoration, elaborate clothing, crown, etc.). Several other images of the wind god, in both sculpture and relief, depict him with hanging curved or L shaped ear pendants, leading us to consider them one of his key attributes and further associating this figure with Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl.
Do you know what the hole in the stomach is thought to have housed?
Yes! One of two things: ritual offerings to the God or green stones, symbolizing the heart and it's life force, thought to activate or animate the figure in some way.
Is there specific significance of the green stone, as opposed to other stones? Does it have something to do with the color green being related to life, vegetation, fertility and stuff?
That's definitely a part of it! The green stone is likely related to Jade and its popularity from the time of the Olmec, considered to be the mother of all Mesoamerican cultures. The material was conceptualized as a rare and valued commodity among many pre-columbian cultures.
However also just the feel of the material, it's luster, and it's rarity, were all things that contributed to it's "value."
Thank you very much!
Is this statue crying or is this just a design?
I believe this is just part of the design relating to body painting and scarification. In fact if you follow that line, you'll find that it runs from the corner of his eyes to ears, which according to a sixteenth century source marked a man as a high-status Huastec who was free from paying tribute. This further corroborates the figure's high-status as a deity. His elaborate skirt and massive crown are two other indicators.
Was there originally something in the sculpture’s hands?
Given the placement, I would speculate that it once held some staff or other implement, an indicator of the figure's status like his crown.
Is this supposed to be life size?
This sculpture comes from the Veracruz region of southern Mexico, and is understood as life size. It is also very likely that it would have been placed on an elevated platform within its temple.
Oh cool! Thank you.
Is this one from the Mexican culture?
Yes! The Huastec are native to the region of Veracruz and nearby Hidalgo, San Luis Potosí and Tamaulipas. There are so many details! The skeleton, for example, has hooked toes suggesting that it represents a supernatural being! The young man on the other side of the piece represents the wind god Ehecatl-Quetzacoatl.
Huastec material culture dates back to the 10th century BCE, but their artistic production appears to have flourished between around 500 and 1400 CE.