General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 18 Sep 2020/11 Rabbit
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Popular Circle of Friends terracotta figure

‘Circle of Friends’ terracotta figure

A reader has written in asking: ‘Could you please explain the origin and meaning of the artifact which appears on your “Magic Numbers” page showing seven interlinked figures in a circle around a bowl?’ These terracotta figures have become trendy in recent years and are commonly available in online shops. They’re also attributed to both Aztec and Maya cultures - but how authentic are they? (Written by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: Dance figures circle a musician - terracotta figurine from Nayarit
Pic 1: Dance figures circle a musician - terracotta figurine from Nayarit (Click on image to enlarge)

Well, it DOES have ancient antecedents, but ‘circle of friends’ appears to be a modern epithet or nickname. We’ve come across three examples, from different cultures, which we illustrate here. The first (pic 1) is in our ‘Aztec Music’ section, in a feature titled ‘Ancient musical instruments from western Mexico’ (link below). The caption reads ‘Scene featuring several figures circling a central person playing a drum. Nayarit, late preclassic’. Nayarit is a small state in western Mexico between the forested mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental and the Pacific Ocean.

Pic 2: Terracotta figure from Colima: group of nine dancers
Pic 2: Terracotta figure from Colima: group of nine dancers (Click on image to enlarge)

Our second example (pic 2) has similar dance connections: eight figures link arms and appear to circle a ninth individual (with drum) in the centre. It comes from one of the classic works on ancient Mexican dance - Dances of Anáhuac: the Choreography and Music of Precortesian Dances by Gertrude Prokosch Kurath and Samuel Martí (Viking Fund Publications, 1964). The caption reads ‘Fertility open round dance, Colima Culture. Dance group with nine persons, five males (with headdresses) and four females; height approximately 3 1/2”’. The original is in the collections of the Milwaukee Public Museum, USA.

Pic 3: Group of terracotta figures appear to dance round a central couple; Anahuacalli Museum, Mexico City
Pic 3: Group of terracotta figures appear to dance round a central couple; Anahuacalli Museum, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

And our third example (pic 3) we spotted ourselves on exhibition in the Diego Rivera Anahuacalli Museum in Mexico City - but we’ve yet to locate any cataloguing information on the piece, which is amongst other pre-Hispanic artefacts (Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican mural painter was an avid and lifelong collector). In this case there are seven individuals with arms linked, appearing to dance around a couple in the middle of the scene. We have requested more information on the piece from the Anahuacalli Museum. As and when we learn more, we’ll add it to this page...

NOTE 1: A friend has informed us that there is more on this in the book Anecdotal Sculpture of Ancient West Mexico by Hasso Von Winning & Olga Hammer, Ethnic Arts Council of Los Angeles, 1972.
NOTE 2: Another friend has pointed out that there’s a similar figure in the Museo Nacional de Antropología’s collections - it was the inspiration for a recommended book: Cooperation and Collective Action: Archaeological Perspectives, edited by David M. Carballo, 2013, University Press of Colorado, Boulder (see pic 4).

Pic 4: Cover of ‘Cooperation and Collective Action: Archaeological Perspectives’
Pic 4: Cover of ‘Cooperation and Collective Action: Archaeological Perspectives’ (Click on image to enlarge)

Picture sources:-
• Main and pic 3: photos by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
• Pic 1: photo courtesy Bangor University, Wales
• Pic 2: photo courtesy of and used with permission from the Milwaukee Public Museum.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Jul 04th 2020

emoticon If nothing else, you can use these figures to literally count how many are in your inner and outer circles of friends - close friends v acquaintances?

‘Ancient musical instruments from western Mexico’

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