General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 24 Mar 2019/13 Lizard
Text Size:

Search the Site (type in white box):

Article suitable for older students

Blood streaming from the tongue of Tlaltecuhtli, Aztec (Mexica) god(dess) of the earth, stone sculpture in the Templo Mayor Museum, Mexico City

The tongue hanging out in Aztec art

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Omar Sanchez: In most Aztec artwork I noticed most (if not all) animals and gods have their tongues out. What did that mean to them? (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

In fact, if you browse through an anthology of Mexica art such as Aztec Art by Esther Pasztory, which includes examples from stone sculptures, codex pages, mosaics, featherwork, ceramics, jewellery, monolithic monuments and much more, you find the number of images in which the tongue is sticking out of the mouth to be a very small minority. The exceptions are dramatic ones, however: the tongue (and obsidian blade) in the centre of the Sunstone, images of the face of Tlaltecuhtli (earth deity), Xipe Totec (‘The Flayed One’) in the Tovar Calendar...

Tlaltecuhtli was commonly depicted by the Aztecs with his/her tongue out as a sign of his/her thirst for human blood - the archetypal Mexica deity that could both nourish life and take it away - and of course many now believe that it is Tlaltecuhtli’s face that is shown in the centre of the Sunstone. What comes from the deity’s mouth, in the great stone monolith discovered only recently in central Mexico City (and now on display in the Templo Mayor Museum - photo above), is more than just a tongue - it is a steady flow of blood, ‘a powerful visual representation of Tlaltecuhtli’s devouring role, and a symbol of the divine link between human sacrifice and providing sustenance [food] to the Aztecs’ gods.’ Learn more from the link below...

Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore

‘IN THE NEWS: latest excavations...’

Comment button

Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: Thanks for putting a welcome new perspective on this - much appreciated.
Mexicolore replies: Thanks for this very meaningful interpretation.