Monday, March 07, 2011

blood and bats

In yesterday's post, I introduced you to the Aztec's Templo Mayor.

Like most monumental buildings built before the conquest, it is interesting.  But because of its scale, it simply did not connect with me.  And I was a bit disappointed. 

The Aztecs are one of history's most fascinating people.  A warrior nation so steeped in its own pride that thought it could rely on its diplomatic skills to buy off an inferior invading force.

I did not find any of that in the pyramid temple.  But I did in the neighboring museum.

Most of the items found at the site were either offerings to the gods or implements used in ceremonies.  And a wide variety there was.  Enough that we now have a very good idea who the Aztecs were at the time of their defeat.

There is always a danger of turning a very complex people into comic book pagans by emphasizing the gore associated with human sacrifices. 

But there is plenty of gore in the museum.  Or the memory of gore.  The type of thing that would stir the soul of any eight-year old boy.

An altar wall of skulls -- right out of Indiana Jones.

Or a sculpture disc of a goddess sliced and diced by her brother.  Some archaeologists believe that the decapitated and limbless body of sacrifice victims were tossed down the pyramid onto this disc.

And no Aztec museum would be complete without the skulls of real live (at one time) sacrifice victims.

Some things even look as if they were mundane.  Like this prototype of a children's Saturday morning cartoon -- that just happens to be one of the knives used to sacrifice humans for the appeasement of the gods.

And here is a statue of a victim of one of those knives -- with his skin flayed off and viscera visible.

I suspect, though, this human skull used as a mask would be almost every boy's favorite museum piece.  A handy container for Halloween candy.

But the Aztecs also created items of great beauty.  Like this very human pottery offering.


If this piece had not had a label, I would have sworn it was Greek.  Mycenaean, I would have said.  The detail is exquisite.


Or this large shell sculpture.  An artist put a good deal of his time and personality into creating it.


But this jug may be my favorite.  Not only because of its color.  The design is simple, but it connects with the viewer at first glance.  And glances right back at you.

The Spanish learned a good deal about the Aztecs from the nobles they did not slaughter.  But we can probably learn as much about them through the works of their own hands.

Hands of a human scale and skill.


John said...

Gotta go with the shell sculpture - very nice.

Felipe Zapata said...

Dang, gotta go back. I've visited the site outside, but not the museum. Nice rundown.

Steve Cotton said...

The mixture is interesting. And I was surprised at some of the more delicate pieces that have been recovered.

Steve Cotton said...

It is one of the best museums I have visited in Mexico so far. It does not have as many exhibits as the Anthropological Museum, but these exhibits are far more accessible due to their immediate connection with the site.

Trinidad Garcia said...

Love the pictures. I went to Mexico City in September, but I didn't visit many places. I especially wanted to see the wall of skulls but perhaps on my next visit.

Steve Cotton said...

The skull wall is grotesquely beautiful. Worth the visit.

Adrienne said...

The "halloween candy container" gentleman's upper incisors appear to have grooves or notches filed in them. Did the label have any explanation of their difference from the other teeth?

Steve Cotton said...

The label didn't. I seem to recall something about the Indian tribes fililng teeth for beauty purposes. But the details escape me.

teresa freeburn said...

don't know how i missed this post. guess cause i was home sick yesterday and didn't spend too much time online. those pieces of art are amazing and i wholeheartedly agrees, some look they belong in a greek musueum.

so you're in salem now. well, we just can't keep track of you now can we? hope you're enjoying your visit nob.

Steve Cotton said...

Short visit for taxes.