Skull effigy vessel
Mixtec artisans excelled at lapidary work and were famous for their extraordinarily refined miniature carvings made in a variety of materials, creating objects of virtually perfect design and workmanship. The Mixtec also created smaller portable ceramic objects depicting a variety of themes, from deities to plants and animals.
This skull effigy vessel exemplifies the burnished fine gray characteristic of Mixtec ceramic wares. Though it appears macabre, it has very little to do with the darkness of death. In Mesoamerica, life and death are part of a continuous cycle of transformation. Skeletal remains embodied the life force and symbolized the seeds of new life and rebirth. For the Mixtec, skeletal images such as this example were not images of death but of fertility and regeneration.
Skull vessels often appear in Mixtec codices as part of the ritual worship of one of the important female deities of the Mixtec pantheon, Lady 9 Grass, who is usually depicted with a skeletal face and associated with death and the fertile earth. Worship ceremonies for the goddess took place in a maize field and involved the offering of blood from two skulls, connecting to the rhythmic cycle of death and fertility, the giving of life. This effigy is the only example of this significant Mesoamerican symbol in the Museum's entire collection.
Kathy Windrow, DMA unpublished material, 1992.
DMA unpublished material, 2009.
Mary Ellen Miller and Karl A. Taube, "Mixtec gods," in The gods and symbols of ancient Mexico and the Maya: an illustrated dictionary of Mesoamerican religion (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1993): 116-117.