18 June, 07:00

Aztec Sacred Art: Shell Necklace

Aztec Sacred Art: Shell Necklace
In Aztec culture, it was customary to display the skulls of executed prisoners of war and sacrificed people. For demonstration, we used special stands called tzompantli. Images of stands with rows of skulls are found in ancient books about the Aztecs, for example, in the Florentine Codex, a historical work by the Spanish monk Bernardino de Sahagún.

A necklace made of shells, dated from the 12th to 16th centuries, bears some resemblance to tzompantli. 18 almost identical “beads” in the form of human skulls are inlaid with hematite (several “eyes” are preserved) and were covered with paint, as indicated by traces of pigment. Such decorations can be seen on images of tzitzimime - heavenly deities associated with the cults of death and fertility among the Aztecs. On the one hand, tsitsimime acted as protectors of the feminine principle; they were worshiped by women in labor and midwives. On the other hand, these deities brought misfortune in unstable times. The skulls symbolize both life and death: regular sacrifices ensured a bountiful harvest.

The number of skulls in the necklace may not be random - it probably corresponds to the number of months in a year among the Aztecs. The Aztec calendar consists of 18 months of 20 days, each month has its own patron deity. An additional period of five days was left without a patron - it was believed that during this period of time people suffered bad luck.


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