Crouching toad (one of pair)

c. 1300–1500
more object details

General Description

This crouching frog was reportedly found as part of a pair (with 1969.13.2) along with the Head of the rain god (1967.5) and a large ceramic hand (1969.13.3), with which they probably formed a shrine. Frogs were often positioned around the rain deity to mark the cardinal directions. These amphibians were also worshiped throughout Mesoamerica and, like Tlaloc, were symbols of rain and fertility. The Olmec were fascinated with the ability of certain frogs to shed their skin by consuming it, and so, like the frog, their kings transformed themselves metaphorically by shedding their skin to reveal a shaman identity within. The Maya used the image of a frog as the glyph for birthing, and even today, Maya boys make the sounds of chirping frogs as part of the rain rituals of the Yucatán.

Adapted from

Carol Robbins, Label text [1969.13.1 and 1969.13.2], A. H. Meadows Galleries, 2010.

Fun Facts

  • Colossal, hollow clay effigies are not numerous in the Mixtec region, and they rarely survive intact. These two gruesome toads with their blood red tongues, their venom glands behind bulging eyeballs, and their vicious fangs and teeth, may have been part of a shrine grouping in a cave in Oaxaca. Toads and frogs, associated with water and approaching rainstorms, often appear in Mesoamerican art marking the cardinal directions and surrounding the Rain Deity. Toads also relate to fertility because they lay so many eggs, to shamanic transformation because of their metamorphosis from egg to fish to animal, and to sacrifice because they shed and devour their own skin. One toad in Mesoamerica is larger and more awesome than all the rest: the carnivorous Bufo marinus. Behind its eyes, this toad has venomous glands that secrete more than two dozen poisons, one of them a potent hallucinogen ingested ritually since ancient times. These skin glands appear on the DMA's clay toads as swollen, pitted areas behind the eyes. Long before Mixtec artisans formed these great clay effigies, the Olmecs were apparently ranching toads for their medicinal properties, and thousands of toad remains have been uncovered by archaeologists at the Olmec site of San Lorenzo.