Obsidian mirror

Mexica*, AD 1325-1521
From Mexico

The Mexica people made mirrors of varying sizes with cut iron pyrites and obsidian (a volcanic glass). They were sometimes used in divination and healing practices. For example, if a child was suffering from 'soul loss' the healer would look at the reflection of the child's image in a mirror or a container with water. If the image were clear the child would soon recover; if it were shadowy, the soul had been lost. Like the Mexica, some people in parts of Mexico today believe that 'soul loss' is a cause of illness.

Mirrors were also associated with Tezcatlipoca, the Mexica god of rulers, warriors and sorcerers. His name can be translated as 'Smoking Mirror'. In many depictions during the Postclassic period (AD 900/1000-1521) his foot is replaced by a mirror.

Obsidian, ranging in colour from almost black (as here) to translucent green, came from various sources in Mesoamerica. At least six major sources are known in Central Mexico, in the states of Mexico, Hidalgo, Puebla and Michoacan. The most important source before European contact was Pachuca, in Hidalgo, which produced a beautiful green obsidian. Obsidian was also used for scraping and cutting tools, as well as for ornaments and carvings.

*The people and culture we know as 'Aztec' referred to themselves as the Mexica (pronounced Me-shee-ka).

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More information


R.F. Townsend, The Aztecs (London, Thames and Hudson, 2000)

M. E. Miller and K. Taube, An illustrated dictionary of t (London, Thames and Hudson, 1997)

F.F. Berdan, The Aztecs of Central Mexico:, Case Studies in Cultural Anthropology (New York, London, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982)

R.H. Cobean, 'Notes on three decades of obsidian source investigations' in Rutas de Intercambio en Mesoam, Coloquio Pedro Bosch-Gimpera (Mexico DF, UNAM, 1998), pp. 115-52


Museum number

AOA 1825,12-10.16


Bullock Collection


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