Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Guadalajara's Regional Museum - Treasure House Part 2

The importance of personal decoration. As in virtually all human societies, personal decoration was important to Western Mexico's indigenous people. Aside from satisfying simple vanity, such decoration confers status and position. And it's also fun to dress up. Shown above is a closeup of a beautiful necklace made of shells and finely worked copper bells. The large bell in the center features a winged insect. There was a widespread trade network throughout Mexico, through which moved copper from the mountains and shells from the Pacific Ocean.

This posting is Part 2 from our visit to the Museo Regional de Guadalajara. I have arranged the photos to show several additional aspects of life in this area pre-hispanic Mexico. This section shows the fine craftsmanship of personal decorations worn by the people. Following sections will look at warriors and warfare, the place of dogs in the societies, and finally a section I'll just call "Quirky humor".

Shell necklace, modeled by clay figure. The style of this shell necklace was not unique. The clay figure shown above, and in closeup below, demonstrates how it was worn.

The realism of early Mexico's sculptors. I found repeated examples of realism in the objects displayed in the Museo. The juxtaposition of the necklace and the small sculpture shows not only how the necklace was worn, but the existence of the necklace shows that the sculptor was illustrating real life. Given that, the earrings, hairdo, dress, and other aspects of the figure must show how people really dressed at the time.

Concentric necklaces. The photo above shows more fine work with shells and clay bells in several lovely necklaces.

Warriors and warfare

Crouching warrior in full armor. The warrior shown above appears to wear a wicker helmet and wicker body armor, and clutches a short battle club. These would have protected against stone-pointed arrows and lances, as well blows from the sort of club he carries. However, they proved of little use against the steel swords and pikes, much less against the firearms of the Spanish. Still, in their time, they enabled empires like the Purepechan (named the Tarascan by the Spanish), to conquer their neighbors and control the area from Patzcuaro in Michoacan to the eastern part of Lake Chapala.

Seated warrior with club. This warrior appears to be responding to some threat as he grasps his weapon and turns to face the enemy. He appears to be wearing some sort of helmet, perhaps made of leather.

Captive faces grim future. This slumping figure is obviously a captive, shown by the bound hands and dejected posture. The feet of the warrior standing guard over him can be seen in the background. Warfare in pre-hispanic Mexico was conducted for a variety of reasons including tribute and control of trade routes. One special purpose was to capture enemy warriors and--best of all--enemy leaders for the purpose of human sacrifice. The Spanish professed horror at this practice, particularly because it was conducted for religious purposes, i.e. to appease the gods. They conveniently forgot that their Inquisition, raging at the time of the Conquest, conducted human sacrifice for religious purposes through burnings at the stake and other tortures.

Dogs in pre-hispanic Mexican society

A very distant relative to today's Chihuahua. This fat little dog bears a close resemblance to a rather overfed chihuahua. Domesticated dogs have a long history in Mexico, going back thousands of years. Remains of dogs looking very much like the one above have been found in Mexican ruins dating to the 2nd Century BC. They were kept for religious purposes, as pets, and were sometimes used as food. This one looks happy and well cared-for.

Mischievous dog. A curious little dog climbs over the side of an oil lamp. Another example of pre-hispanic humor.

Lighting the way. This little pooch served a function beyond decoration. The spout on his head appears to be for the wick of an oil lamp.

Another dog lamp. The sculptor who created this oil lamp gave it the four legs of the dog(s) for support. The two heads would have made it easier to carry.

Pre-hispanic Mexico's quirky humor.

Two-headed woman with three eyes. This figure was highly decorated and still shows the original white and ocher colored paint.

Primitive jazz combo? These two fellows were engaged in an activity that completely mystified me at first. Then I noticed that the one on the left appears to be shaking a rattle. That would make sense if the device connecting them was some sort of two-man musical wind instrument.

Incense burner with a long tail. An attractively designed incense burner was adorned by its maker with a humorous handle in the shape of an animal's tail, possibly that of a monkey.

I have many more photos of the wonderful objects in the Museo, but no space in this blog to portray them all. If you have the opportunity to visit the Museo Regional de Guadalajara, I urge you to do so. Our visit barely scratched the surface of all that is to be seen. For information about the location and hours of the Museo, please refer to the opening section of Part 1 of this posting.

Hasta luego! Jim


  1. Jim, the prehispanic dog sculptures you feature are called 'the Colima dog'. The figures were originally found in the state of Colima, western Mexico. These figural dogs are still symbolic of western Mexico.

    They are sculptured not after the chihuahua, but after the breed of dog called xoloisquintle, originally raised by the Maya for warmth and for food. Yes, the Mayans ate their dogs.

    Today, the xoloisquintle is rare even in Mexico and is much sought-after. Google the name--you'll find pictures of these charming hairless dogs.

    Mexico Cooks!

  2. My photos won't travel to your blog, but i have an incense burner similar to the one you show from Guadalajara. It depicts a man perforating his penis in ritual bloodletting. Take another look at the one in Guadalajara. What has been identified as a monkey tail may be an uncircumcised penis. The blood was collected on paper and burned (perhaps with incense) in such pots. Thanks for your posting.
    Charles dominusvobiscum at



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