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Head with lip-plug

Aztec/Mexica clay head with lip-plug

Male head with lip-plug, Mexica, clay, height 19.5cms., National Anthropology Museum, Mexico City.

This clay fragment is a realistic depiction of a Mexica dignitary, complete with the insignia of the lip-plug, an adornment that distinguished great warriors and leaders. The man’s hair is worn in the style of an elite warrior. The large and striking lip-plug was presented to nobles during a public ceremony. The priest used an obsidian knife to make a cut running from the lower lip down to the chin. The ornament was then inserted, the rim at each end preventing it from falling out when the scar healed. The wearer was obliged to create the ferocious grimace seen here to hold the lip-plug in place, particularly if it was circular in shape.

Adapted from ‘Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler’, British Museum Catalogue, 2009, p. 104.

Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore