In this posting, we'll take a look at the Museo Regional and a selection of its treasures. The Museo is located in the old cloister (living area) of the Convento Franciscano de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, seen in the previous two postings. Because there are so many wonderful artifacts contained in the museum, I will show them in two posts. This one will cover the Formative (Pre-Classic) Era (2000 BC-100 AD), the Classic (100-650 AD) and Epi-Classic (650-900 AD).
The flowers symbolize the four cardinal points of the cosmos (north, south, east, west). These directions are sacred and each is associated with a different god. It is very likely that the craftsmen who carved these rafters were indigenous, and probably only recently converted. Ironically, they were incorporating pagan decorative elements into one of the earliest centers for evangelizing native people. This covert practice was common throughout Nueva España. It is not clear whether the Franciscans understood the connection at the time. However, when they ultimately figured out what was going on, they denounced the such images, calling them "idols behind the altars."
Crosses like this were typically erected in a large, open atrium such as the one directly in front of of the Franciscan cloister and its church. To appreciate the size of this atrium, and its relationship to the other structures of the Convento, see the scale model in Part 5 of this series. These expansive areas were devoted to evangelization because they allowed the friars to gather large numbers of native people for mass conversions and religious education. Often, this education was delivered in the form of religious plays and processions. The indigenous masses were virtually always illiterate (at least in the European sense), so the crosses were often covered by easily understood symbols relating to the Passion of Christ (i.e. the events leading up to and including the crucifixion). The figure of the crucified Jesus was deliberately left off the cross. The friars wanted to avoid making any association between the crucifixion and the pre-hispanic practice of human sacrifice.
Formative or Pre-Classic Era
Stone yokes were symbolic imitations of the lighter versions the players actually wore. While few, if any, leather or wicker yokes have survived, those carved from stone have often been found in ancient tombs. They were placed there to commemorate a sacrificed player or a person who had some other important connection to the ball game. The Olmecs (1500-400 BC) have often been called the "Mother of Cultures." Through trade and colonization, they exerted strong cultural influences throughout Mesoamerica. Some of their trade routes passed through Tlaxcala. Many of the key aspects of later civilizations originated with the Olmecs. Examples include the ball game, stepped pyramids, human sacrifice, the ancient calendar, worship of the Plumed Serpent, and the earliest writing in the Americas.
The Classic Era
one of a handful of animals domesticated by the ancient people. Some dogs were kept as pets but others served as a source of meat. Dogs also played a role in mythology as guides for the souls of the dead on their journey into Mictlán (the underworld). This one, found in a tomb, apparently was intended for that purpose.
similar ones found around altars in the ruins of Teotihuacán date to 250-450 AD. This was a period when the great trading city's influence was spreading throughout Mesoamerica. One of Teotihuacán's key trade routes ran through Tlaxcala to the Gulf Coast. In fact, from 300-500 AD, the ancient town of Tecoaque, in eastern Tlaxcala, was a Teotihuacan military/trading outpost along this route. This fits rather nicely with the dating of the Teotihuacan ollas pantojas. Pots like these were manufactured in Teotihuacán and then exported for use in religious ceremonies elsewhere.
merchant/trader would have had to transport it along primitive footpaths on the back of one of his human porters.
The Epi-Classic Era
Xochitécatl. This ancient site dates back to the middle of the Pre-Classic Era. Due to an eruption of the still-active Volcan Popocatépatl, Xochitécatl was abandoned in 150 AD. However, in 600 AD, it was reoccupied and its crumbling old pyramids were used as ceremonial sites by the newly arrived inhabitants of Cacaxla. Large numbers of these figurillas (little figures) were left on the grand staircase and top level of Xochitécatl's "Pyramid of the Flowers". They were apparently left as fertility offerings. These ceremonies also appear to have involved the ritual sacrifice of children. Notice the four-petaled flower in the center of each figure's head dress.
Conch shells were the most important wind instrument in the Mesoamerican musical repertoire. While they must, sometimes, have been employed for simple entertainment, their most important use was in religious ceremonies and as signaling devices during military operations. Conch trumpets were often elaborately carved with religious symbols and decorated with feathers. Throughout Mesoamerica, conches appear on sculptures and in wall murals. At Teotihuacán's Palacio Quetzalpapalotl, wall murals show marching jaguars blowing conch trumpets. In 1521, during the siege of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, eyewitness Bernal Diaz del Castillo reported hearing the mournful wail of quiquiztli (conch trumpets) as he observed Spanish prisoners being marched up the steps of the Templo Mayor to be sacrificed to the Aztec War God Huitzilopochtli.
This completes Part 7a of my Tlaxcala series. If you have enjoyed it, please leave any comments or questions in the Comments section below, or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.
Hasta Luego, Jim