Name: Museum of Anthropology XALAPA
City, State, Country: Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico
BY JANET MIESS
During our January/February 2012 trip to Mexico, we were able to visit many beautiful museums. The afternoon of January 31, upon arrival in the town of Xalapa, the capital of the State of Veracruz, we drove directly to the Museum of Anthropology (Museo de Antropología), where we spent about an hour and half in the museum before it closed. We returned the next day and spent a couple of hours to finish looking at everything. The museum galleries cover Olmec, Central Veracruz, and Huastec cultures. All items come from the State of Veracruz.
The most memorable pieces in the museum for me were the life-size figures of the goddess Cihauteotl that were discovered at the site of El Zapotal. The museum has on display about eleven of these figures, only a few of them are mostly complete. They represent women who have died in childbirth. Cihauteotl is the wife of the god of death. The figures were discovered in a shrine to Mictlantecuhtli in the 1960s after looters had disturbed the site and the authorities were able to trace some of the looted artifacts back to the site of El Zapotal. The excavation was led by Manuel Torres and a team of archaeologists from the University of Veracruz (UV) in Xalapa. The archaeologists discovered in the shrine an unfired clay image of Mictlantecuhtli that remains at the site, since it was too fragile to be moved. Outside of the shrine, nineteen of these figures of the goddess Cihauteotl were found along with more than two hundred human skeletons, ceramics, and musical instruments.
If you look at each of the Cihauteotl statues, they are dressed similarly in a skirt with a belt made of two snakes, but the faces and body types are different. Each goddess holds in her hand a censer with a sculpted human or bat head attached. The goddesses' closed eyes let us know they are dead, and each of them has open mouths, so they appear to be singing. I spent quite a bit of my time in the museum looking at these enchanting figures. Many of the ceramics in this section of the museum were found in the excavation at El Zapotal including another of my favorite pieces: a ceramic jaguar. The artist has pulled the clay out all over the body of the jaguar with his fingers to make the piece look as if it has ruffled fur. The expression on its face is just so lively you would expect the jaguar to continue his dance at any minute.
Also among my favorites were the “Smiling faces” figures, from a culture called Remojadas. Here, in another section of the museum, is a collection of small figurines and heads made in the Classical period 300–900 CE that are all smiling or seemingly laughing out loud. When you look at these little faces you cannot help smiling and laughing with them.
The Xalapa museum is a little known gem and a great place to spend a good portion of a day looking at all the wonderful treasures on display.
Death Gods, Smiling Faces and Colossal Heads: Archaeology of the Mexican Gulf Lowlands by Richard Diehl http://www.famsi.org/research/diehl/section02.html
A guided tour Xalapa Museum of Anthropology 2004 Editora de Gobierno del Estado de Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave y Universidad Veracruzana
Click on the images below to see a larger version with text describing the picture.