5664 - Flesh of the Gods and Ancestors: Phenomenology of the Stone Masks at Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan-style stone masks are one of the most recognizable varieties of Pre-Columbian visual culture. But many aspects of their manufacture, patronage, function, distribution, and consumption remain unknown. The most plausible explanation of the function of Teotihuacan stone masks is that they were used in ancestor worship rites, perhaps associated with elite lineage shrines, sacred bundles, and even mummy bundles. At Teotihuacan, the choice of stone as a sculpture medium for masks correlated to not only to costliness or rarity of the material, but also to Pre-Columbian notions of the nature of gods and ancestors. The gods and deified ancestors were thought to have had flesh of stone. Ethnographic analogy can be carefully applied to the case of the Teotihuacan stone masks to illuminate a native phenomenology of stone as a sculpture medium. A growing literature dealing with both ancient Mesoamerica and the Andes has shown how Pre-Columbian peoples viewed artistic mediums such as jade and other stones very differently from how Westerners view them. For the Inka, Carolyn Dean has demonstrated that stone, natural outcrops and mountains, as well as carved, and otherwise mediated forms, were viewed as animate, ancestral figures. For the ancient Maya, several recent studies have explained that deities and deified ancestors were depicted with "mirror" signs, denoting that their flesh was reflective and adamantine, like jade and other hard stones. In Oaxaca, the Mixtec codices told of a mythological race called the Stone Men, who were defeated in the remote past in what has been called the War of Heaven. Numerous myths recorded in Mexico in the early Colonial era relate how masks and other costume elements were the only traces of long departed deities, such as Coatlicue. At Teotihuacan, as elsewhere in ancient Mesoamerica, masks were likely classes as relics, and were key indices of the sacredness of the gods and ancestors, of what the Nahuas called teotl . Their petrous medium was critical to their role in ancient Teotihuacan society, as reconstructed by both internal structural and archaeological evidence, and by ethnographic analogy to the practices of other Pre-Columbian peoples.

Palabras claves: stone sculpture, phenomenology, Teotihuacan

Autores: Villela, Khristaan (University of New Mexico, Ud States of Am / USA)


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