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Teponaztli

Aztec/Mexica teponaztli slit drum

Slit/gong/tongue drum, Zapotec, wood, length 68.5 cms, British Museum, London.

Teponaztli [learn more from our illustrated feature - link below] were decorated with elaborate carving. On this drum a warrior is depicted lying in a contorted pose with one leg stretched to his underarms and the other curved around one end of the drum. Although barefoot, the figure is adorned with elaborate ornaments including a tortoiseshell as an upper arm bracelet, a carved fish bone hanging from one of his thighs and a feather ornament suspended from a cord around his neck. He wears tubular ear-spools, a nose ornament and a headband, and his short hair is shown with one lock hanging from the side. With his left hand he holds a conch shell under his chin.
A very similar drum in the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City... has been identified as depicting a Tlaxcalan warrior. The Tlaxcalan people were in a state of constant warfare with the Mexica, and were never conquered. The act of drumming on the back of a captive enemy warrior would therefore have held important symbolic significance.


From ‘Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler’, British Museum Catalogue, 2009, p. 191.

Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore

See our feature on the teponaztli