Anthropomorphic plaque, possibly the fire serpent

800–400 BCE
more object details

General Description

In 1969, this plaque was considered a major addition to the Museum's ancient American collection. Dominated by the cleft head, with jaguarian mouth and toothless gums, the figure was described as possibly representing an Olmec deity of fire or rain.

During the 1970s, several scholars questioned the authenticity of the object. Of particular concern were the profile partial heads on the shoulders, the monster face on the lower body area, the baselike band across the lower edge, the three circles incised on the forehead of the primary face, the scratches on the eyes, and the meandering line incised across the mouth. In addition, the opaque surface of the lower part of the plaque resembled an artificial patina used by Mexican forgers during the 1950s and 1960s.

During the 1990s, other scholars questioned the verdict of modern forgery and encouraged us to return the plaque to the galleries, where its authenticity could be openly discussed. We invite you to compare the plaque with other Olmec stone objects in the collection, all of which are considered authentic. We will revise this information as our quest for the truth progresses.

Adapted from

Carol Robbins, Label text, A. H. Meadows Galleries.

Fun Facts

DMA Conservator John Dennis noted that burial accretions and root marks in deep cavities indicate long-term burial of the object, and that there are no traces of modern tool marks. The pigment (cinnabar) is also typical of the era. The opinions of Olmec scholars Kent Reilly, John Stokes, and Peter David (P.D.) Joralemon are that the piece is questionable iconographically and must be weighed against this physical evidence.