Scientific study of Mexican turquoise mosaics, £12.99
Diameter: 34.000 cm
Room 27: Mexico
Limestone figure of an old man and boy
Huastec, AD 900-1521
Stone sculptures of elderly figures are a recurring theme in Huastec art. They are always represented in the same posture: leaning forward, with out-stretched arms holding a staff or planting stick. This example represents a variation: here the planting stick has been replaced by a boy in a rigid posture.
The figures are generally very schematic, with greater detail shown on the face and hands. Some, as in this case, wear a loincloth and an adornment on the shoulders. Their shaven heads show cranial deformation, a common practice among the Huastec. Dental mutilation, as seen in many pottery figures with filed teeth, was also common. These practices were described by sixteenth-century chroniclers and are confirmed by skeletal remains found in the northern area of the Gulf Coast, where the Huastec were centred right up to the Spanish conquest. Facial scarification was also practised among the nobility as a symbol of high status.
Similar sculptures are still used today as the focus of ceremonial life in remote rural villages. At planting time they are dressed up with greenery and flowers and people entreat them to ensure the fertility of their fields.
L. Manzanilla and L. López Luján, Historia antigua de México, vo (Mexico, UNAM / Instituto Nacional de Antropoligía e Historia, 1995)
C. McEwan, Ancient Mexico in the British (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)
M. Ryan (ed.), The art of ancient Mexico, exh. cat. (London, South Bank Centre, 1992)