Pre-Columbian, Valley of Mexico, Mixtec people, ca. 1200 to 1500 CE. An incredible pair of gently concave beige shells, each with scored edges to create a ridged border; set inside the border of each is the head of a lordly figure, shown in profile. Each head is shown with a decorative headband and several feathers extending from the top and back; each also wears a huge spool earring with two shorter feathers hanging from it. A small bird figure is in front of the face of each, probably representing a god. Red cinnabar in the incised motifs allow them to stand out from the pale shell surface. Size: 1.2" W x 1.1" H (3 cm x 2.8 cm); 4.7" H (11.9 cm) on included custom stand.
Are these trophy heads? The Mixtec, like the Aztec and other cultural groups throughout the Valley of Mexico, fought constant wars to acquire prisoners. Captives and sacrificial victims had their heads removed ritually, and these were displayed publicly on specially-built racks called tzompantli. In addition to having real racks of skulls, documented extensively by Spanish chroniclers, Mesoamericans created artwork of disembodied heads that seem to relate to the same idea. These earrings would have been attached to a cylindrical bar, probably made of metal, and inserted through the ear, perhaps to demonstrate the martial prowess of their wearer, or to show their devotion to the gods who commanded such sacrifices.
Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection; ex Huber collection, New York, USA
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Excellent. Iconography and cinnabar pigment are both in beautiful condition. With light patina from age and handling.