The Malinaltepec Mask, Symbol Of Ancient Teotihuacan Culture, Found Authentic
The Prehispanic piece, aged aproximately 1,800 years old, has been subject of 7 studies performed recently by 20 researchers, after which it has been confirmed as authentic. The studies are integrated in a new publication “The Malinaltepec Mask” by Sofia Martinez del Campo, expert in funerary masks. The book contains the detailed analyses that the mask underwent, since it was discovered, in 1921. It seems that the controversed object has caused many disputes upon its authenticity among the specialists. Archaeologist Porfirio Aguirre considered the mask one of the great treasures in Mesoamerica, while authorities doubted its ancient roots.
Because of the two different Prehispanic periods in which the mask was created, the specialists had strong doubts about its genuineness. “Studies and analyses were conducted in 1921 to determine if it was original. Nevertheless, controversy did not end”, explained restorer Martinez del Campo. The Teotihuacan piece seems to be considered one of a great quality, because its different composing materials and the fact that its creation went through two stages: construction and decoration – which was added afterwards, during the second Prehispanic period.
“The Malinaltepec Mask” also speaks of the other studies that the mask went through, such as morphometric description, mineralogy, petrography, lepidary aspects, technological analysis and adhesives that were used to glue the decorations. The presentation of the book also speaks of the former director of the National Museum of Anthropology, the late archaeologist Felipe Solis, who – in 2008 – promoted the investigation of the object, in order to clear all doubts.
The work for this project brought together more than 20 experts in different fields, such as chemistry, mineralogy, petrography, biology, archaeology and anthropology.
The piece, decorated with 762 tesseraes, managed to amaze the archaeological team that performed the analysis for the project, thanks to the tehnique in which it was manufactured, and the material used for its decoration.
The studies performed in 1921 determined that the piece had been created with serpentine. However, the new mineralogical analysis revealed that the mask was made of chloritite – a rock that has the color green-yellowish.
Expertise carried out in the begginning of the 20th century found the origins of the blue tesserae, which is amazonite, and some were confectioned with turquoise – and also contains shell and hematite elements. The reports were again verified within lithic analyses in 2008-2009 and found true.
According to restorer Martinez del Campo, there is no doubt that the substance used for gluing the tesserae is copal resin – bringing evidence to the contrary rumors claiming that the adhesive was actually modern glue. The presence of the copal substance shows clearly that the Malinaltepec Mask was created in Prehispanic times.
The object’s value is increased by what it symbolises: a unity of two moments in time, as its origins were defined as the Classic Period (200-900 AD), when the object was created, and the Post Classic period (900-1521 AD), then it was actually used in a funeral. It measures 21 centimeters – in both length and width – and it was originally covered with turquoise. According to restorer and book author Sofia Martinez del Campo, the mask was not covered with mosaic, initially. No less than 700 years later, had the amazonite tesserae been inlayed. It seems that the material that they are made of is strongly associated with the Chalchiuhtlicue goddess of fertility and water, in the Teotihuacan culture. The ornament representing the nose is made out of shell fragments. The glyph drawn on the mask’s forehead also symbolizes the flowing water, according to ancient beliefs.
The mask is loaded with many ancient symbols that stand for positive thoughts that influence the mind, like peacefulness, fertility and serenity – and the reason for this is that Mesoamerican people cherished their remains of past cultures, as they recovered the Olmeca and Teotihuacan masks that had been used for funerals, and re-adapting them later as gifts, for different users.
The meaning of the mask was also different, for each of the two periods in which it was either conceived, or modified. During the Classic period, the function of the mask is not yet known, but some may think it belonged to a sculpture or was part of an architectural structure. However, within the Post Classic period, its purpose is clear: it was used to bury it along with an important character. It was thought that the departed wearing it would be able to go to the underworld and ascend to a higher level, as a divinity. It is interesting that the gender subject is still a mistery, it remains unknown whether it was being used to bury a man or a woman.11