Pair of ear spools

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General Description

Obsidian was used by the Mixtecs not only to make razor sharp instruments of death and sacrifice, but also was drilled and polished to produce delicate ornaments. 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. Smaller decorative ornaments were part of the larger elaborate costume accoutrements for nobility—often worn on the face, forehead, and chest—and projected both elite status and supernatural power.

These obsidian ear spools are technical masterpieces, worked so thin that the black volcanic glass is transparent. Inserted through holes in the ear lobes, they could have been worn independently or threaded with dangling beads and feathers. Black obsidian was also an important trade good from the volcanic highlands, which would further indicate the luxury and status associated with such items carved from this precious material.

Adapted from

  • Kathy Windrow, DMA unpublished material, 1992.

  • DMA unpublished material, 2009.

  • Carol Robbins, Label text [1968.20], A. H. Meadows Galleries, 2010.