General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 24 Sep 2017/13 Flint
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Aztec gold jewellery piece

A nose plug fit for a water goddess

The ancient Mexicans often attributed very particular features and characteristics to their gods and goddesses. Chalchiuhtlicue (‘She of the jade skirt’ or ‘Lady precious skirt’), for instance - goddess of water on the ground, in rivers, lakes, seas - is often shown in the codices wearing a particular style of nose plug, usually painted turquoise. (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Picture 1: The classic image of Chalchiuhtlicue in the Codex Borbonicus
Picture 1: The classic image of Chalchiuhtlicue in the Codex Borbonicus (Click on image to enlarge)

This nose plug, called ‘xiuhyacamitl’ in Náhuatl, has a striking shape. Some experts say it could represent a butterfly (look at the gold piece in the main photo!); on the other hand it might well represent a double-headed serpent. In fact that’s exactly how it’s shown in some of the Mixtec codices like the Borgia.

Picture 2: Close-up in the Codex Borgia
Picture 2: Close-up in the Codex Borgia (Click on image to enlarge)

In the original codex (Pic 2) the image is faded somewhat, but in the reconstruction in Mateos Higuera’s beautiful Graphic Encyclopaedia of Ancient Mexico (Pic3), you can see the serpent very clearly.

Picture 3: Reconstructed image of Chalchiuhtlicue from Codex Borgia
Picture 3: Reconstructed image of Chalchiuhtlicue from Codex Borgia (Click on image to enlarge)

Water was not a particularly favourable day-sign to be born under in Aztec times: a precious commodity, yes, but water is fickle: like many forces of nature it can bring life, but also death. Your fate could easily flow ‘down the river’ (down the plughole, we would say today) with negative consequences (Pic 1). Is this the meaning of the double-headed serpent in Chalchiuhtlicue’s symbolic jewellery? A double-edged sword...

Picture 4: Butterfly or double-headed serpent?
Picture 4: Butterfly or double-headed serpent? (Click on image to enlarge)

By the way, notice the triangular cape (‘quechquémitl’) that the goddess is wearing (Pics 2 & 3) - learn more about it in the page on Aztec nicknames (follow link below): and while you’re there, look out for the goddesses sporting the same nose plug!

Picture 5: Graciela demonstrating the use of Aztec jewellery in one of our school workshops
Picture 5: Graciela demonstrating the use of Aztec jewellery in one of our school workshops (Click on image to enlarge)
More on jewellery and clothing

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Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: Good question! We know that generally, rods of gold or precious stone were inserted through the septum of the nose, and the wings of the nostrils were pierced for the attachment of nose-studs (equally, of course, ears and lips were pierced to hold jewellery). Presumably the ‘fibula’ (clasp) that must have been used to hold the back of the gold nose plug shown has been lost. We will do more research on this...!