The Testimony of Hands


Location of Aztec empire

36.11.5, architectural element
Aztec empire, Mexico (A.D. 1248–1521)
Transfer from Museum of New Mexico
Photograph by B. Bernard

This stone head depicts Xipe Totec, a god of death and rebirth, especially in relation to the rebirth of crops and other vegetation in the spring. He is depicted wearing the skin of a flayed human. This stone head shows the eyes and mouth of Xipe Totec visible through the openings of a human's facial skin.

In annual rituals, priests of Xipe Totec wore the skins of flayed sacrificial victims. Although today the practice sounds almost too gruesome to believe, it was an accepted part of Aztec religion. For the Aztecs, life could not happen without death, just as death could not happen without life.


From the second photo, it's apparent that the back of the stone head is flattened. Traces of a ground-off tenon indicate that the head was once a decorative element for a temple or other building.

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