Pocket guide to Aztec and Mayan gods, £6.99
Height: 38.000 cm
Width: 3.000 cm
Gift of Misses Thornton
Room 27: Mexico
Olmec, 1200-400 BC
Perforators were used in self-sacrifice rites, which involved drawing blood from several parts of the body. Some representations of Olmec rulers show them holding bloodletters and/or sceptres as part of their elaborate ritual costume. Bloodletting was performed by the ruler to ensure the fertility of the land and the well-being of the community. It was also a means of communication with the ancestors and was vital to sustain the gods and the world. These rituals were common throughout Mesoamerica.
Olmec jade perforators are often found in graves as part of the funerary offerings. Bloodletting implements were also fashioned out of bone, flint, greenstones, stingray spines and shark teeth. They vary in form and symbolism. Handles can be plain, incised with a variety of symbols associated to certain deities, or carved into the shape of supernatural beings. The blades, ending in a sharp point, are sometimes shaped into the beaks of certain birds, such as the hummingbird, or into a stingray tail.
This large perforator was probably not used as a bloodletting instrument; it might have been placed in a grave as an offering, or may have served a symbolic function.
, The Olmec world: ritual and ru, exh. cat. (Princeton, N.J., Art Museum, Princeton University in association with Harry N. Abrams, 1996)
E. Benson and B. de la Fuente (eds.), Olmec art of ancient Mexico (Washington, National Gallery of Art, 1996)
E. Benson (ed.), The Olmec and their neighbours (Washington, DC, Dumbarton Oaks, 1981)
C. McEwan, Ancient Mexico in the British (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)