The Testimony of Hands

2008.34.2, .3, .6

2008.34.2, .3, .6, three stone mace heads
Pre-conquest Ecuador (pre-A.D. 1530s)
Donated by Karl Schwerin
Photograph by B. Bernard

Mounted on a handle and swung by a warrior, mace heads such as these could easily kill or maim. Blows to the skull were so common in Andean warfare that precolumbian healers learned the surgical art of trepanation (cutting away skull bone to relieve hematomas). Many weapons could serve a dual purpose—for example, arrows could be used to hunt game as well as in warfare—but maces were useful only for war and indicate the existence of formalized aggression and specialized aggressors.

The size of these stones gives some intidation of their potential. The light grey one is 11 cm (4.3 inches) across and weighs 474 grams (1.04 lb.). The smaller examples, from left to right, are both 8 cm (3.1 inches) across and weigh 203 grams (.51 lb.) and 210 grams (.46 lb.). Their density makes these weapons especially dangerous.

Even so, the human need for aesthetics is apparent, for example in the selection of a visually arresting stone (a porphyry) to create the mace head at the lower left of the photograph shown above. Below is an additional mace head that shows the same combination of beauty and deadly efficiency. It measures 9 centimeters (4 inches) across and weighs 416 grams (.92 lb.).


57.5.27, bronze mace head
Pre-conquest Peru (pre-A.D. 1530s)
Watt Stewart collection
Photograph by B. Bernard

We close this page with an object that may be a mace head—if so, it doesn't show the usual points, which served to concentrate the force of the blow. Instead it may be a ceremonial object that has nothing to do with warfare. Unfortunately, nothing we know about it provides firm evidence as to its actual use. Part of the challenge of archaeology is determining the use of objects, and in some cases it just isn't possible (the original cataloguer settled for describing it as a "stone donut"). It is the right size for a mace, at least, measuring about 8 centimeters (3 inches) across and weighing 350 grams (.77 lb.).


57.5.18, stone, mace head?
Pre-conquest Peru (pre-A.D. 1530s)
Watt Stewart collection
Photograph by B. Bernard

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All content copyright © Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, University of New Mexico. A high-resolution verson of this photograph may be ordered from the Maxwell Museum's photo archives. Please make note of the catalogue number. For more information please visit the photo archives web page

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