General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 19 Apr 2021/3 Alligator
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Model of Tizoc Stone in Haslemere Educational Museum

Haslemere Educational Museum

You don’t HAVE to go to Mexico City to study the important Tizoc Stone - there are handy copies in Haslemere (Surrey) and in London!

A short (amateur) video clip of the engravings on the original Tizoc Stone

Haslemere Educational Museum, Surrey
Haslemere Educational Museum, Surrey (Click on image to enlarge)

By invitation of Julia Howard, the assistant curator, we recently popped down to Haslemere to view an unusual item in their reserve collection: a small (15” diameter) plaster copy of the original Tizoc Stone. It was gifted to the museum in 1919 by a Lady Erskine, but how and why it should end up in Haslemere is a bit of a mystery!

Tizoc Stone wax model, British Museum
Tizoc Stone wax model, British Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

A possible clue can be found in the Enlightenment Gallery of the British Museum, where - in the ‘Ancient Scripts’ cabinet - there is a smaller (8”-9” diameter) wax model of the Tizoc Stone. It could well have been made for William Bullock, a 19th. century traveller, naturalist and antiquarian. In 1823 Bullock went to Mexico and brought back a large collection of artefacts and specimens that included casts of several important Aztec treasures, which formed a new exhibition in the ‘Egyptian Hall’, Piccadilly, entitled ‘Ancient and Modern Mexico’. It’s since been hailed as ‘the first exhibition of pre-Columbian antiquities anywhere in the world’.

Copy of the Tizoc Stone in Bullock’s 1824 London exhibition
Copy of the Tizoc Stone in Bullock’s 1824 London exhibition (Click on image to enlarge)

From the catalogue of his 1824 exhibition we know that he managed to have made life-size plaster casts of the famous Coatlicue statue, the Aztec Sunstone, and of the Tizoc Stone (can you see it on the right hand side of the engraving?). He also acquired some outstanding original pieces, including the imposing stone Xiuhcóatl (fire serpent) figure that greets visitors to the Mexico Gallery in the British Museum today (much of his collection passed to the BM in 1825). It seems likely that Bullock arranged for smaller reference copies of these major artefacts to be made, perhaps for his own collection.

Close-up of wax copy, British Museum
Close-up of wax copy, British Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

What of the original (note its size in the photo, bottom right)? It was found buried under Mexico City in 1791, just months after the great Sunstone was unearthed. It was the first ‘temalácatl’ or ritual solar monument to be discovered by Mexican archaeology. In Náhuatl the word simply means ‘round stone’, but the term today covers the famous circular stones used in gladiatorial performances (these had a crosspiece attached on which to tie the white cord that held the prisoner) as well as large monumental altars celebrating military triumphs, of which the Tizoc Stone is a prime example.

Ian with Haslemere Museum Assistant Curator Julia Howard
Ian with Haslemere Museum Assistant Curator Julia Howard (Click on image to enlarge)

In the introduction to his description of this ‘Supreme Temalácatl’ (‘The Aztec Calendar and other Solar Monuments’), Felipe Solís has written: ‘The greatest Mexica [Aztec] contribution to the solar religion was the creation of altars that were used as platforms for staging ritual combat in which the person who would become the messenger of the sun performed. Over the years, as the empire’s power increased, the temalácatl altars became monuments glorifying the history of their civilization, especially the military conquests dedicated to Huitzilopochtli.’

Students view the original Tizoc Stone, Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
Students view the original Tizoc Stone, Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

Around the circumference of the monolith are 15 scenes depicting the conquest of key provinces - though ironically most of these had been won prior to Tizoc’s rule (1481-1486), the best known of which shows the emperor Tizoc wearing a hummingbird helmet, symbol of Huitzilopochtli. Tizoc has in fact been called ‘the least successful military leader of the Mexica’ (Esther Pasztory), and he contributed more through his impressive building programme than in battle. Engraved on the top of the stone is a great solar disc with 8 rays. Clearly visible on the original, the copies, and in the Florentine Codex illustration is the channel running from the central bowl-shaped hollow to the rim. If, as Felipe Solís argues, the Tizoc Stone was used as a model by the native artists of the Florentine Codex, it must surely have been used at some stage at least as an offering stone...

Gladiatorial combat, Florentine Codex (Book 9)
Gladiatorial combat, Florentine Codex (Book 9) (Click on image to enlarge)

Location photography
by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore

Temalácatl (top) and cuauhxicalli (bottom) ceremonial stones, Codex Vindobonensis
Temalácatl (top) and cuauhxicalli (bottom) ceremonial stones, Codex Vindobonensis (Click on image to enlarge)
Detail from the original Tizoc Stone
Detail from the original Tizoc Stone (Click on image to enlarge)
Click for Haslemere Museum website
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Mexicolore replies: Thanks Mario for taking the trouble to write in.