Angulo V., Jorge. The Chalcatzingo reliefs: an iconographic analysis

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Publication Information


Title: The Chalcatzingo reliefs: an iconographic analysis

Published in: Ancient Chalcatzingo, edited by David C. Grove

Published By: Ancient Chalcatzingo, edited by David C. Grove Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987. 132-158 p.: ill.

By line: Jorge Angulo V. ; TAKUHÓN illustrations by Chappie Angulo

HRAF Publication Information: New Haven, Conn.: HRAF, 2000. Computer File

Culture: Olmec (NU95)

Subjects: Visual arts (5311); Ethnozoology (825); Ethnometeorology (821); Mnemonic devices (211); Comparative evidence (171);

Abstract: Angulo tackles the iconography of the carved stone monuments at the highland site of Chalcatzingo, taking a direct historical approach that, in this case, follows the 'Mother Culture' hypothesis that subsequent Mesoamerican symbolism and beliefs had their origins in Olmec culture emanating from the Gulf Coast core area. Carvings on rock outcroppings and boulders that portray mythical-religious themes emphasizing zoomorphic representations probably pertain to the Middle Formative period. Stelae that feature important persons, ritual events and even texts were placed on man-made terraces and may be Late Formative period in date. Analysis emphasizes motifs rather than overall composition, although motifs tend to be repetitive within the monument groups defined in Grove: 1987 (Document 12). A unifying theme in one group is taken to be related to the seasonality of rain critical to agricultural production, with cosmological and meteorological phenomena represented by animal figures that also could have been totems of clans participating in ritual cycles at the site. Another group is interpreted as representing a mythological cycle involving feline avatars, hero twins, Venus, the death and rebirth of the sun in its daily circuit through a watery underworld, and the possible sacrifice of war captives to perpetuate the cosmos; precursors of common themes in later Mesoamerican myth and ritual. A small number of carvings likely depict the ball game, with its ritual paraphernalia and cosmographic references. Stelae with possible rudimentary glyphs may depict actual important people and events, and a fragment may carry calendar glyphs with a Middle Formative period date. Defaced artwork is interpreted as a ritual symbolizing the release of the soul of the deceased person to which they pertained; stone monuments in the case of elites and ceramic figurines for commoners. The work concludes with a general synthesis of native Mesoamerican philosophical and religious beliefs not necessarily confined to the Olmec-influenced culture at Chalcatzingo, but that may have originated with (or at least been systematized by) the Olmec, transformed at the time of their decline and disappearance in the Late Formative period into mass public ceremony with more overt emphasis on temporal power.

Document Number: 13

Document ID: nu95-013

Document Type: Essay

Language: English with Spanish summary

Note: For bibliographical references see Grove: 1987 (Document 3).

Field Date: 1972-1976

Evaluation: Archaeologist-4,5

Analyst: Leon G. Doyon ; 2007

Coverage Date: 3100 BP-2500 BP.

Coverage Place: Chalcatzingo, Morelos State, Mexico

LCSH: Olmecs


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