Wooden slit-drum (teponatzli)

Mexica*, AD 1325-1521
From Mexico

This is an example of an Mexica slit-drum, called teponaztli in Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Mexica. It was hollowed out and carved from a piece of hardwood. Two tongues were slotted at the top, carefully carved to achieve different tones when struck with drumsticks. The teponaztli was generally decorated with designs in relief or carved to represent human figures or animals. This example was fashioned in the shape of a crouching human figure.

Information about musical instruments in Mexica times comes from excavations, mural paintings, ceramics, codices (screenfold books) and other sources from the colonial period. The use of the teponaztli is well illustrated in the codices, usually accompanied by an upright, cylindrical drum, called huehuetl. It was played on a stand or on the floor with a cloth or rope to raise it from the ground.

Music and dance featured in a variety of religious ceremonies but also for recreational purposes. Mexica deities such as Xochipilli, Xochiquetzal and Tezcatlipoca were all associated with music. Musical instruments have been found as offerings to these gods at the site of the ancient Mexica capital, Tenochtitlan. There were schools where the youths could learn to sing, dance and play musical instruments.

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

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More information


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

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

C. McEwan, Ancient Mexico in the British (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)


Length: 72.500 cm
Height: 17.500 cm

Museum number

AOA +6184


Purchased with funds from the Christy Fund


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