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Tlatilco figurines

Tlatilco figurines (from the National Museum of Anthropology, but also including the Female Figure at the Princeton University Art Museum), ceramic, Tlatilco, Mesoamerica (present-day Mexico), c. 1200–600 B.C.E.  Speakers: Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank and Dr. Steven Zucker.

Tlatilco is a Nahuatl word, given to this “culture” later. It means “place of hidden things.” We don’t know what the people here called themselves. Around 2000 B.C.E., maize, squash and other crops were domesticated, which allowed people to settle in villages. The settlement of Tlatilco was located close to a lake, and fishing and the hunting of birds became important food sources.

Archaeologists have found more than 340 burials at Tlatilco, with many more destroyed in the first half of the 20th century.

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  • female robot grace style avatar for user artbyavigail
    How on earth can clay last that long? I understand that jade could, probably last a long time but clay is just so fragile. Was it really that long ago?

    Also, the considering the domestic pets shown-- were animals already widely domesticated by then?
    (17 votes)
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    • piceratops tree style avatar for user Arthur Smith
      Ceramics are incredibly stable and last forever, if well cared for. And, when fired properly, they're not so delicate as you might think. So, unless someone smashes it on the ground, it can last for millennia.

      Meanwhile, dogs are estimated to have been domesticated between 11,000-16,000 years ago, before the rise of agriculture. This is a "New World" culture, so dogs would have been around for thousands of years already.
      (21 votes)
  • male robot hal style avatar for user R3hall
    They show two strange figures at . One has 3 eyes, 2 mouths, and two noses. It reminds me of Bill Durks, the man of three-eyed fame in the 20th Century who was born with a serious deformity. The other figure is of two separate heads on one body. This is much like that of Eng & Chang (not in the truest sense here) of the 19th Century. Could it be that the ancient Mexicans revered deformities seeing it divine, as opposed to our society which abhors them and all too often this leads to bullying?
    (14 votes)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user Alex McDaniel
    What is the purpose of the holes in the teeth on the death side of the mask?
    (6 votes)
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  • female robot ada style avatar for user Katrina
    Does anybody else cringe when they hear "this is what tells us what people felt was important 3ka ago"?

    As somebody who tends to have anartist tendencies and enjoys such art areas such as "vapour wave" and "dank memes"... and also enjoys drawing things because they are silly.

    Does anybody else worry about a future set of archaeologists only being able to find records of "dank memes" and "vapour wave" for our current society? I mean... every time I hear people talking about artwork from 3ka ago telling us what they thought was important. Shoot... there was even a meme in Renaissance paintings where they drew faces where demons had genitals (this is in among-st artwork of fairies blowing fart bubbles from a maiden, and silly nudity things).
    (1 vote)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user cassiedejesus11
      I understand what your saying Katrina. I also wonder this. I often look around and wonder what will survive the next thousand years for future civilizations to find and try to 'decode' our society. This is why I think we have to make peace with the fact that we may never fully understand these civilizations. It's something that we will never truly know until we have lived in these times.
      (7 votes)
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Julia Moon
    I think the people made these figures to represent attached twins or siblings. Was it possible at that time?
    (1 vote)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user Manna Tsao
    To me, all of the figurines shown in the video looked very scary. Was there any purpose in making it look that way, for example to maybe scare the evil spirit away or something?
    (1 vote)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Matthew DeWard
    Perhaps the dualistic notion of the two-faced or two-headed figurines could also be astrologically significant and relative to the constellation of Gemini. Although Gemini is a much later adaptation to the constellation's mythology, the stars themselves, are not. Perhaps they had a hypothesis of certain astrological events, and some pertained significantly to some more than others. Gemini today are seen as twins, mostly adopted from the Greek counterparts; Castor and Pollux. Perhaps, they had their own story told orally, off the written record, which told the story of the conjoined twins. It also reminds me of conjoined twins, which is generally considered a birth defect in anatomical studies.
    (1 vote)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Lauren Swalec
    I love the little animal vessels! Especially the dog. Is there any information on what these would have been used for? Such as storing drinks or food?
    (1 vote)
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  • primosaur tree style avatar for user david.montalbo.26
    At is that a death god representation? I.E. they thought the god of death looked like that.
    (1 vote)
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  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Tetrite
    why is that woman kissing a dog
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] We're in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, and we're looking at some of the most extraordinary little clay figurines that were from a village in this area in the Valley of Mexico, about 3,000 years ago. - [Voiceover] The name of the town was Tlatilco and it had hundreds of burials where you find these amazing figurines. - [Voiceover] The figurines have extraordinary variety but they give us an insight into what was important to people 3,000 years ago. What they made and then had themselves buried with. - [Voiceover] What we're seeing at Tlatilco is one of the earliest developments of a wide array of objects that display this very advanced visual expression. And so right now we're standing in front of a series of figurines of individuals with two faces or two heads. - [Voiceover] The double-headed figures come in a whole variety. There's one at Princeton University that I'm particularly in love with. Because it has bifurcated face with two noses, two mouths, but only three eyes. - [Voiceover] And it's a very representative type of Tlatilco female figurine, where you have the narrow waist, the broad hips, traces of paint on the face, on the incised hair. - [Voiceover] Now this is clay and it would've been incised with a sharp instrument to create, for instance, the lines of the hair, and pinched to created forms like the nose. - [Voiceover] You typically see red, yellow or black pigment, and then decorations where you had roller stamps, where you could roll designs over the various surfaces. - [Voiceover] Some of the figures that we're seeing here don't actually have a combined double face, but have two heads. - [Voiceover] One of the figurines that we're looking at right now you have a single body, so only two legs, two arms, two breasts, but then two individual heads. And we see a variety of these here, that are relating to this idea of duality. - [Voiceover] We really don't know what this means, because we don't have a written record to go with this. We've got the objects themselves. - [Voiceover] And this is a great example of where the visual archaeological record is one of the main ways in which we're able to know about this culture. - [Voiceover] I'm really taken by this small, clay object that is a single, mask-like form, but is bifurcated, that is, divided right down the middle. - [Voiceover] On the left, you see the face alive, and on the right side, a skeletonized face. So basically, the de-fleshed, dead face. - [Voiceover] So duality can have lots of different meanings. I think in the 21st century, when we use that term we're often thinking about a kind of East-Asian notion of duality, of the yin and the yang. But here in Mexico, what do we know about duality in later cultures, where we do have a better record? - [Voiceover] Well, if we're kind of making broad generalizations around this idea of duality. The idea of life and death paired together might relate to the cycle of life. It's through death that life is able to continue. - [Voiceover] So we usually think about life and then death. And you're saying that people in Mesoamerica thought also about death and then life? - [Voiceover] Exactly, that there is this concept that you see consistently about the cycle of life, and this idea of regeneration and rebirth. - [Voiceover] As I look at this mask, and it's too small to be worn, it would actually fit comfortably in the palm of my hand, the right side is terrifying. It is this skull with that wide, open eye. And it's almost as if we see the grinning of the teeth. But on the left side, it's also unnerving because it is almost a kind of animal-like face. And the tongue is sticking out below the teeth. - [Voiceover] The lip has been pulled open as if it is this grimace, which to us reads as threatening or a little terrifying. - [Voiceover] And it's important to remember that this was found in a burial. We don't know if it was originally intended for a burial but that's where it ended up. - [Voiceover] What we find in most in most of these Tlatilco figurines are scenes of daily life and very humorous or charming figurines. - [Voiceover] There is that small infant in what looks to be a crib, a woman who seems to be kissing a small dog, and another that cradles the dog. - [Voiceover] Now these are some of my favorites. Here we see not only people in daily life but people engaged in types of activities that are truly more intimate. That you don't see as frequently throughout Mesoamerican art. - [Voiceover] It's interesting what you're saying because there's so much that carries from the early cultures to the later cultures, but that's not true here. - [Voiceover] We know that in some ways Tlatilco is contemporary with Olmec civilization. Which is considered the mother culture of Mesoamerica. Tlatilco is not necessarily influencing, at least, as far as we know right now, later cultures in the same way that say, the Olmec are. - [Voiceover] And then there are those amazing animal vessels. They're so plump and playful. - [Voiceover] So some of my favorite include the head of a fish, or a duck. - [Voiceover] These were settled people? - [Voiceover] I mean at this point, they're living more sedentary lives here, say in the village of Tlatilco, and so they're able to create ceramics. More seen here are animals and plants that people are using for food, as much as they are to replicate, in ceramics, this amazing variety of the natural environment that they see before them.