Wooden slit-drum (teponaztli)

Mixtec, possibly 14th century AD
From Mexico

Decorated with battle scenes

This is an example of a slit-drum called a teponaztli. 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. Mixtec teponaztli were generally decorated with scenes carved in relief, while Mexica* examples were sometimes carved to represent human or animal figures. The scene on this teponaztli represents a battle between two cities. It is carved with figures and calendrical inscriptions in the same style used in the Mixtec codices (screenfold books). For example, the name of the warrior on the left of the main scene is 'Five Rain', represented by five circles and the symbol for rain. This glyph also indicates a date, but the Mixtec used the day of birth as a personal name.

The Mixtec, whose heartland was in present-day Oaxaca, were expert artisans and created magnificent objects in wood, bone, turquoise mosaic, jade and metal. Some of these objects were paid in tribute to the Mexica empire. There was also a district of Mixtec artisans in the Mexica capital, Tenochtitlan.

*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)

M.H. Saville, The wood-carvers art in ancien (New York, Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, 1925)

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


Length: 37.200 cm
Height: 12.000 cm

Museum number

AOA 1856,4-22.142


Gift of Lady Webster


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