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Turquoise mosaic animal head

Aztec turquoise mosaic animal head in the British Museum

Turquoise mosaic animal head, Mexica (Aztec), mosaic in turquoise and malachite, mouth encrusted with gemstones and shark’s teeth which, in addition to the pearls and glass used in the mosaic, are thought to be later modifications, height 10 cms., width 7.3 cms., British Museum.

Although this mosaic has been generally referred to as an ‘animal head’, the type of animal represented has long been problematic. It has been variously described as ‘an ape-like head’ and a ‘monkey head’, and ‘from some angles it strongly suggests a fish head.’ A rather similar head, now in the Museum für Völkerkunde, Vienna, has been described as a ‘Mirror frame ... head of a predator, feline or canine’. The animal head was formed on a wooden base and the tesserae set in place with pine resin.

From Turquoise Mosaics from Mexico, C. McEwan, A. Middleton, C. Cartwright & R. Stacey, British Museum Press, 2006.

Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore.