Turquoise Mosaics from Mexico

Overview

The nine turquoise mosaics from Mexico are some the most striking pieces in the collections of the British Museum. Among the few surviving such artifacts, these exquisite objects include two masks, a shield, a knife, a helmet, a double-headed serpent, a mosaic on a human skull, a jaguar, and an animal head. They all originate from the Mixtec and Aztec civilizations first encountered by Europeans during the Spanish conquest in the early sixteenth century. The mosaics have long excited admiration for their ...

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Overview

The nine turquoise mosaics from Mexico are some the most striking pieces in the collections of the British Museum. Among the few surviving such artifacts, these exquisite objects include two masks, a shield, a knife, a helmet, a double-headed serpent, a mosaic on a human skull, a jaguar, and an animal head. They all originate from the Mixtec and Aztec civilizations first encountered by Europeans during the Spanish conquest in the early sixteenth century. The mosaics have long excited admiration for their masterful blend of technical skill and artistry and fascination regarding their association with ritual and ceremony. Only recently though, have scientific investigations undertaken by the British Museum dramatically advanced knowledge of the mosaics by characterizing, for the first time, the variety of natural materials that were used to create them.

Illustrated with more than 160 color images, this book describes the recent scientific findings about the mosaics in detail, revealing them to be rich repositories of information about ancient Mexico. The materials used to construct the mosaics demonstrate their makers’ deep knowledge of the natural world and its resources. The effort that would have been involved in procuring the materials testifies to the mosaics’ value and significance in a society imbued with myths and religious beliefs. The British Museum’s analyses have provided evidence of the way that the materials were prepared and assembled, the tools used, and the choices that were made by artisans. In addition, by drawing on historical accounts including early codices, as well as recent archaeological discoveries, specialists have learned more about the place of the mosaics in ancient Mexican culture.

Filled with information about the religion, art, and natural and cultural history as well as the extraordinary ability of modern science to enable detailed insight into past eras, Turquoise Mosaics from Mexico offers an overview of the production, utilization, and eventual fate of these beautiful and mysterious objects.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822339243
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2006
  • Pages: 96
  • Product dimensions: 7.40 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Colin McEwan is an archaeologist and head of the Americas section at the British Museum.

Andrew Middleton is a mineralogist at the British Museum.

Caroline Cartwright specializes in the identification of wood, fiber, and shell as a scientist at the British Museum

Rebecca Stacey is an expert in the characterization of resins, waxes, and gums at the British Museum.

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Table of Contents


Director's Foreword     6
Acknowledgements     7
Introduction     8
Ancient Mexico     8
Sources of information     8
Mosaics in the British Museum     11
Antecedents in serpentine and jade     14
The significance of materials     19
Mosaics under the Microscope     24
Microscopy and analysis: the science behind the art     24
Raw materials: selection and procurement     27
Construction of the mosaics     38
The Turquoise Mosaics in the British Museum Collections     42
The masks     42
The helmet     53
The double-headed serpent     54
The shield     59
The mosaic on a human skull     66
The knife     71
The jaguar     78
The animal head     83
Epilogue     85
Notes     86
Glossary of scientific techniques     90
Bibliography     91
Index     94
Picture credits     96
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