Aztec Icon #15 – QUIAHUITL, God of Rain

I’ve just checked the date when I posted Icon #14, Quetzalcoatl, for my serialized coloring book YE GODS! and must hang my head in shame that it’s taken me nearly six months to finish Icon #15, Quiahuitl, God of Rain. I understand that nobody out there has been waiting with baited breath to see my latest work of genius, but I managed to draw the earlier deities much more quickly, 14 of them in 3 ½ years.  My excuses are that this past winter I spent a lot of time on my second memoir, and for what it’s worth, this icon turned out to be just about as detailed as Icon #11, Ocelotl (Jaguar).  There’s a lot going on in it.

Quiahuitl, God of Rain

This icon is available as 8X10 with a caption/sources page by clicking here.

In the central image, Quiahuitl {kee-a-hweetł} is shown emerging from the Underworld, rising up out of the maw of the Earth Monster.  The Aztecs understood that moisture mysteriously rises from the earth to the sky (the crest across the top), where the god turns it into rain.  Every locale had its own Quiahuitl to conjure and appease, as indicated by drops falling on trees which symbolize the cardinal directions.

Quiahuitl is of crucial importance to the cultivation of maize, and the lower panel is a homage to that crop. In the center, the plant grows out of another Earth Monster, and on it perches a mythical bird, which is actually a motif inherited from the ancient Maya, Itzamnaaj—the Bird of the Sun.  Just above it is another nod to the Maya, the head of a centipede which they saw as the face of the Underworld.  On the left is Chicomecoatl (Seven Snake), chief of the several goddesses of maize, and on the right is Centeotl, the main god of maize.

But that’s not all. The four big dots indicate that the god is also a day-sign in the ritual calendar, Four Rain (Nahui Quiahuitl).  You’ve already seen the same thing in the icons of Four Water, Four Wind, and Four Jaguar.  I haven’t yet made it alphabetically to the god Tonatiuh and Four Earthquake, the Fifth Sun, our current era.

Anyway, Four Rain is the day-name of the earlier Third Sun (era), a paradise ruled by the Storm God Tlaloc. However, when Tezcatlipoca abducted his wife Xochiquetzal, Tlaloc destroyed that world in a rain of fire.  Its poor humans were turned into butterflies, birds, dogs, and turkeys—which I rather doubt was a great deal of help in the rain of fire.

As I said before, there’s a lot going on in this icon, and there were times I wondered if I was ever going to complete it. Besides, all these past months we’ve been suffering severe drought, and I started to fear it was because I hadn’t finished the god’s icon.  Well, I finally did it last night—and it still hasn’t rained!  I’ve done what I could…

This morning I fired #15 off to my digital wizard in Bangladesh to be turned into a vector drawing, which will be added to the coloring book page.  Then it will follow the other 14 to my print shop. At Santa Fe Signs & Images, they’re being printed on 3’ x 4’ vinyl banners for my upcoming exhibition.

NEWS FLASH!

I’ve recently arranged to have a show of my coloring book pages to be called YE GODS! Icons of Aztec Deities.  It will be at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe, opening June 1, 2018 and running through July 29.  There’s much to be done in preparation, of course, and I’ve at least gotten calendar listings out to the media.

Now come the million details, and I seriously doubt that I’ll even get started on Icon #16, Tecciztecatl, God of the Moon, till later in the summer. According to the original project plan, I’ve still got 11 icons to go, which at this rate will take a minimum of three more years, maybe four.  What the hell!  I’ll only be 80!

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Ancestors, Level 1, My Parents

To explain: I’ve just enjoyed a new contact with a young man in Miami about my image of the Aztec deity Xochipilli, who appears (above) on the masthead of my webpages and blogs. As the god of homosexuals (and a whole lot more), the Prince of Flowers has long been my patron. Unfortunately, he sits down by the end of the alphabet (with the other x’s), and it’ll be a couple years till I get around to doing his icon for my coloring book YE GODS!

My new friend Walter identifies as a pagan and practitioner of the Unnamed Path, which sounds quite like mine, though I didn’t think to name my path. We’re both on the beautiful paths (as the Navajo would say, walking in beauty) for men who love men. You can find Walter on his splendid path at http://sacredbonfire.com.  Meanwhile, as a headline on his emails, he includes, “The ancestors are speaking. Are you listening?”

Struck by that profound question, I realized that for a long time that I’ve been dancing around the urge to blog about my ancestors. So far I haven’t written much about them, except in that biography: “Ms Yvonne, The Secret Life of My Mother.” I was too focused on my own terribly fascinating self to pay any attention to the sources of my miraculous being.

Understandably, in researching the biography, I learned a great deal about my parents, as well as about my roots in the generations before them. In that writing, I organized the boxes of old family photographs and in the process quickly became an expert photo-restorer. The art is very like painting, just as aesthetically fulfilling, and playing with pixels to reconstruct an ancestor’s face creates intense emotional connections with the subject, let me tell you. Suffice it to say, I now have plenty photo-paintings to illustrate blogs about several levels of my ancestry.

Naturally, we’ll start at level 1 with my parents, who were people I’d never really known before that research and restoration of their images. I was simply a kid, and they were folks who took care of me. There was no discussion of who they were then or in their pasts, and the oblivious child never even wondered, too busy wondering who I was.

My mother, Yvonne Marie Trinité, was born on January 18, 1919 in Baltimore, Maryland. I discovered that she was quite a fashionable young woman in the thirties who led a nicely sociable life with a number of boyfriends. When she was nineteen, in 1938, a beau took her boating on the Chesapeake and snapped a tiny shot of a virtual goddess of the sea. Retrieving it from a miniature print (1 sq. in) in a foggy blur, I’ve put it up on my refrigerator where I can thank her every morning for solving my life.

Yvonne by the sea, 1938

Meanwhile, over in Wisconsin my future father, Raymond John Balthazor, was born on January 30, 1916 in the village of Bear Creek, and the family soon moved to the big city of Fond du Lac. In school he came down with scarlet fever, an often fatal disease from which he recovered—but with a damaged heart. In 1939, after taking courses at a business college, Ray landed a job with Social Security in Baltimore and had a (retouched) portrait taken for the announcement in the Fond du Lac newspaper. He was a good-looking young man of twenty-three.

Ray, 1939

That’s why Ray and Yvonne met, but further details of their romance are unavailable. They were married on Wednesday, June 19, 1940, both dressed up in the high style of the period:

Wedding of Yvonne and Ray, 1940

True to form, kids came along, first me in 1942 and then my sister Judy in 1947. In 1952 the family moved to LaMarque, Texas for Daddy’s job as a tax accountant in a chemical plant. When we’d moved into our new house, a neighbor took a picture of us for posterity. Notice that at 36 Daddy was already going grey:

The Balthazors in LaMarque, 1952

For two years in Texas we had a fairly normal nuclear family life, but then in 1954 Daddy took us off into the woods of Arkansas to a truck-stop café on Highway 74. Thereafter, our familial relations essentially disintegrated, but that’s another story I’ve reflected in my autobiographical novella “Bat in a Whirlwind.” After I left home for college at eighteen in 1960, Daddy only lived another six years, dying of heart problems at only 50.

In 1971, after five years of widowhood, at 52 Mother married a Texan named Bill Tapp, but only a year later was abandoned by that husband. Afterward, she enjoyed single life in New Orleans for another 42 years, her favorite activity being square-dancing. Yvonne’s really big adventure was surviving Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She kept on square-dancing right up to 93, as in this 2011 snapshot by a dancer friend when she was 92. In early 2013 Yvonne died peacefully at 94.

Yvonne at 92, 2011

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Ancient Coin Found in Ann Arbor MI

While a grad student at the University of Michigan, in the summer of 1967 I moved with my young family into a new subdivision on a sloping street in Ann Arbor. Perched on the gentle slope on a pad levelled by a slight scraping into the rise behind, the house backed up to the low, rounded crown of the hill overgrown with brush and bushes.  I immediately planted some flowers in the strip of freshly disturbed soil between the house and the newly laid sidewalk.  In my digging, I came upon an obviously ancient, apparently bronze coin.  I washed the loose soil off of it but didn’t disturb the lighter-colored material encrusting about 75% of the piece.

 

The coin notably measures precisely 1 inch in diameter. At first I put the coin in with other keepsakes and then some decades ago placed it in a small plastic bag with a note of where it was found.  For the past 50 years it has been only very minimally handled and shown to just a few friends as the one true mystery in my life.

In past years I occasionally read about Roman coins being found around the American Midwest, mostly along major river valleys, and marveled that I too had found one. Mine was found in the low hills of southern Michigan but not far from the Huron River.  Reading more recently about mounting evidence for a Roman presence in pre-Columbian America, I tried to identify my coin by researching the databases of the American Numismatic Society but was overwhelmed by their 42,000 + examples of Roman coinage.

After inspecting only a couple thousand of the coins in their collection, I noted that in the mostly illegible legends on mine the “IMP” on the obverse is standard for “Emperor.” Meanwhile, I found no portraits resembling the head, none with that tassel or braid at the back of the head, and none with that decidedly un-Roman nose.  On the reverse, the standing figure differs in posture from more usual standing figures of Apollo and holds something like a bag in the right hand and possibly a floral bundle in the left arm.  Also, the legend or symbols uniquely continue beneath the figure’s feet, and a strange rayed symbol peeks through the encrustation by the knee.

I’m sending this description and image to the following authorities in hopes:

1) that the American Numismatics Society will authoritatively identify this coin;

2) that the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology will advise on appropriate steps for analysis and conservation and suggest means for further research at the discovery site;

3) that the Historical Society of Michigan will advise me of similar or related finds in the state and suggest an appropriate repository for the artifact; and

4) that the City of Ann Arbor will facilitate any further research at the discovery site and any publicity that might follow.

Meanwhile, I’m posting this letter on my website www.richardbalthazar.com and requesting similar input from the Internet world at large.  Please email me at rbalthazar @ msn.com.  I will incorporate any responses in more web postings and plan to publish an article on the artifact in the magazine “Ancient American.”

About the discovery site, I researched my old address on Google Earth and found the house still there. The low hill behind is still undeveloped after these 50 years and covered with large trees.  After some decades of researching Indian mounds (and publishing the book “Remember Native America, The Earthworks of Ancient America”), I reasonably suspect that the hilltop could well be a mound containing far more prehistoric material than a single coin.

 

Our Exploitative Healthcare System

My first inclination was to write a letter to my doctor (probably a capable, dedicated, and intelligent man), calling a spade a spade, but then I reconsidered. No matter his many sterling qualities, my doctor is by definition a part of, or at least an accomplice in, the situation.  My rant would surely fall on deaf ears.  Instead, I’ll broadcast my cynical remarks here on my virtually unread blog, where at least someone might hear my voice crying in the wilderness.

Late last week I got a second attack of gout in my right big toe, a stereotypical condition surrounded by a great deal of mythology, rumor, and medical lore. A close friend with the same problem in the same place advised that his VA doctor had prescribed him a generic drug called Allopurinol which costs only $5 a bottle.  He reported that one tablet generally relieves the condition immediately and recommended that I get a prescription for it too.  Or he’d be happy to give me a pill or two out of his stash.

Trying to play the medical game by its rules, yesterday I called to ask my doctor (with whom I’d already discussed the first attack) to issue a prescription for the miracle pill, but he was away for the week, and though this second attack was sure to fade within a few days, I left a message with full details of the VA doctor and the friend’s experience.

My call was returned by a registered nurse who advised that they wouldn’t write the prescription unless I came in for an examination. The sub-text of her response came in loud and clear:  “We won’t do anything unless we add our own bill to the cost of the prescription.”

When I advised that in that case, I would go ahead and borrow pills from my friend, the nurse got uptight, sternly admonishing me not to take anyone else’s medication. I asked why—since it had been prescribed by a “real” doctor and was very effective for the same problem.

The nurse dithered about how there “could be” horrible interactions with my blood pressure medication, citing “studies” of that specific combination of medications (which I find highly unlikely), but offering no specifics of such interactions or statistics. What I heard was “Be afraid!  Avoid the slightest, even infinitesimal danger!”  (Frankly, every time I get into my car, I’m conscious of putting myself in a position of extreme danger.  Every time I walk out my front door…  Every time I get out of bed in the morning…  By definition, life is unsafe.)

I advised that I’ve now (with my doctor’s agreement and under his supervision) almost completely weaned my system from that poisonous blood pressure pill, so the danger of any interaction is probably even less than negligible. (I’m now down to 1/8 of the low dosage originally prescribed years ago by a nurse-practitioner for only slightly elevated readings, which have never improved or gotten any worse.  Even at the time, I understood that it was her professional duty simply to enroll me as a regular contributor to the pharmaceutical industry.)

The nurse responded that nevertheless I was still on the medication and should be very afraid. Ratcheting up the pressure to an almost hysterical level, she gratuitously added that some interactions could even be fatal.  Again there were no specifics or statistics, just alarmist jargon.  Recognizing this tactic as standard practice in our current culture of fear, I noted that over-the-counter herbal supplements, while much less effective than Allopurinol, are widely available, but there are such studies or warnings about them.

Ignoring those unprofessional remedies (at higher cost than Allopurinol with sales income not accruing to the pharmaceutical industry), she again urged me to “make an appointment” (i.e., make an extra payment to them) to talk about treatment and a prescription. I advised that I wouldn’t waste either their or my limited time on the issue of taking a single pill of proven effectiveness for a common, otherwise pharmaceutically untreatable, condition.

She countered with an irritated threat “to tell on me” by writing up our conversation for my doctor. I told the nurse to feel free to do so, just as I felt free to call my friend for some of his pills.  When we ended the call, her frustration was palpable.  She’d missed a possible sale!

When I rang up my friend right afterwards, he wasn’t home, and so I figured I’d call him today. When I got up this morning, the gout was gone, so the entire charade was moot.

However, the charade was a dramatic illustration of the basic problem with our healthcare industry. Like other for-profit businesses, healthcare providers’ real purpose is to generate sales, not service.  Aided by the FDA, they collude with the pharmaceutical industry to “hook” people on their monopolistic products.  (Witness the current opioid epidemic.)  And both collude with the insurance industry (the stock in trade of which is fear), to kick back to each other on their sales and ultimately inflate costs to the consumer/patient.

This unholy trinity has our economy by the throat. In the name of public benefit, they exploit the population for private gain, just as other industries exploit our natural resources (the public’s treasures) for private gain.  The fatal flaw in our government and economic system is that private enterprise is inimical to public benefit.  But I’ve already ranted about that in an earlier blog  or two.

Would anyone care to try and disabuse me of these dire and hopeless notions?

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Aztec Gods of the Directions

For the past three weeks I’ve backed off from writing on my next memoir and working on the next Aztec icon (Quiahuitl, God of Rain). Irresponsibly wasting my creative time on a project shelved about thirty years ago, I goofed off by finally wrapping up my Aztec calendar playing cards which I call Tonalli (Days).  Basically, it was a three-week working vacation.

The Aztec Turquoise Year or tonalpohualli (count of days) is based on four sets of thirteen, quite but not quite like the suits of thirteen in a regular 52-card deck.  The difference is that the calendar has eight intersecting suits, which blows standard poker probabilities out of the water.  The other four suits are color-based for the four cardinal directions:  red—East; black—North; white—West; and blue—South.  The four intersecting suits are defined by the patron god of each direction.

The intersection of suits is created by the Aztecs’ curious system of counting the days across the suits. It’s like counting:  One Club, Two Diamonds, Three Hearts, Four Spades, Five Clubs, Six Diamonds, etc.  If that doesn’t compute for you, try laying out a standard deck in those four sequences, and you’ve got four more suits.  If that’s not clear, I’m sorry.  I can’t explain it any better.

The Four Tonalli Aces

Taken from Codex Laud, the twenty day-signs have only been slightly color-adjusted. Aztec numerals are simply the respective number of dots, so the single dot means “Ace.”  The deuce has two dots, etc.  There are no “face” cards, just elevens, twelves, and thirteens.

So, after a mere thirty years it would seem that my work here is done. If anybody out there would like to produce this unique deck of cards and merchandise/market it, grab that ball and run with it.  You’re welcome to it.  I’ve got plenty other Aztec fish to fry (icons to draw).  Just let me know at rbalthazar@msn.com.

Since the images on the above cards are so small, here are larger versions of the directional gods:

Aztec Gods of the Directions

Tezcatlipoca is in the style of Codex Borgia and only slightly reworked from my earlier version in the book Celebrate Native America. The other three are adapted from Codex Borbonicus.  You can check out the deities’ descriptions in my YE GODS! encyclopedia.

In another way, these directional deities form a sort of divine quartet. Tezcatlipoca, The Black One, was perhaps the ‘greatest,’ as the other three were often seen as his manifestations.  Per the traditional colors of the directions, Xipe Totec was called the Red Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl the White Tezcatlipoca, and Huitzilopochtli the Blue Tezcatlipoca.

Speaking of the White Tezcatlipoca, I’ve taken the liberty of colorizing Quetzalcoatl (image from my Aztec Icon #14) as a blond, bearded individual because there are legendary rumors to that effect. Curiously, beards aren’t all that unusual in Aztec iconography, and in the ancient codices one sees many shades of skin color, including black, and various physiognomies, which may indicate a mix of races in the early Mexican population.  An intriguing proposition.

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Still Dancing

 

Aztec God of Dance – The Old Coyote

When I started this multi-faceted blog back in early 2014, I wrote the first couple posts about my life-long OCD (obsessive-compulsive dancing). First was the one explaining my personal motto: There’s dance in the old dame yet. The second was about nightlife and my history of dancing in dives and jive-joints.  Then I got distracted by subjects in history, politics, and art.  Now it’s high time to catch up on public dancing in Santa Fe (NM—not CA, FL, TX, or elsewhere).

I last wrote on the subject four years ago when we actually had two dance clubs in town: the gay bar Blue Rooster (successor to the Rouge Cat) and a new straight nightclub called the Skylight.  To my dismay, within a few months the Blue Rooster closed down (cold-cocked?), and I had no choice but to dance among the straight young things at the Skylight to considerably less danceable music.  Any port in a storm.

Happily, the SCOTUS decision legalizing gay marriage soon caused a sea-change in social attitudes about gays, and we became much more accepted in straight venues like the Skylight. It wasn’t uncommon to see guys and gals dancing with each other, respectively—or even sharing PDAs (public displays of affection).  In this newly comfortable environment, I’d go out to dance almost weekly (whenever the old man has the energy) for many wonderful carouses.

The only fly in the ointment at the Skylight was the music. In my adolescence I’d been an avid American Bandstand rock’n’roll-er and then switched to Latin wildness for a few years in college.  Only much later, I got hooked on disco, and that was my main style for some decades.  However, disco music at the Skylight was only painfully occasional.

The more frequent music there was hip-hop, rap, and metal, which didn’t particularly ring my bell. Fortunately, at times they played Latin (called Hispanic here), which took me back to my debauched youth in frenetic cumbias and exuberant merengues.  And with an effort of sheer will, I tried to get into the new EDM (electronic dance music), which only sometimes was danceable.  Like the little girl with the curl, when it was good, it was excellent, but when it was bad, it was perfectly horrid—and way too loud.

All my life dancing has been a philosophical thing (I dance, therefore I am!)  Or maybe better, a spiritual practice (To dance is to live!).  Spiritually speaking, I’m a dervish.  As I’ve explained in my second memoir (in process), “…unlike ball-room and folk dancing, both Apollonian in their structure, synchronization, and impeccability of movement, my dance is free-form and unrestrained, responding on a visceral level to rhythms and melodies and surrendering to the divine frenzy of Dionysius.”  Call me a maenad!

Then came that Saturday night in early December last when I ambled down Don Gaspar happily anticipating another divine frenzy. Only to find the Skylight’s big iron gates closed up with a huge chain and padlock!  Stunned, I staggered up San Francisco Street to the Plaza (with its outrageous holiday lights), and ran into Brandi, Santa Fe’s prima donna drag celebrity, who confirmed that our nightclub was indeed closed down totally.  Nowhere to go but home, bereft.

After a few weeks of complaining to all and sundry about the loss of the Skylight and dancing at home in solitary splendor to reggae and Salsa Sabrosa (on KUNM), a dear friend mentioned a group called Embody Dance that meets weekly on Thursdays at the Railyard Performance Space. Their website sounded very like a group I’d visited back last spring for a splendid ecstatic experience.  Though I’d put myself on their mailing list, I never heard from them again.

The last Thursday of 2017 I showed up for a session of Embody Dance and was thrilled to find the perfect venue for my OCD: shoeless, unspeaking, and idiosyncratically undisciplined, with adventurous and dance-inspiring music.  In the delightfully diverse company of some sixty folks, for two non-stop hours I surrendered to the divine frenzy and left feeling perfectly fulfilled.

The next Thursday, the first in 2018, I went back to Embody Dance and jubilated again with an even larger crowd, some of whom were maybe even as old as I! After sixty years of dancing, I finally feel like I’ve come home.  Tonight I’ll be doing the mad maenad thing again.

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Mesoamerican Influences in Mississippi

Recently recalling the artistic themes and concepts I’d encountered in my old artifact drawings in my Gallery of Pre-Columbian Artifacts, I decided to gather examples of probable influence of Mesoamerica on the Mississippian civilization in North America. But first I needed to update my collection of artifacts using Google Images.  In the intervening 25 years a lot of new things had been found.

Coming upon an incised shell gorget (a disc of conch shell worn on a cord round the neck) provided me with a true Eureka Moment:

Fifth Sun gorget – AL

Since I’d also spent some 30 years working on the art and mythology of Central Mexico, I instantly recognized the designs in the band  encircling the very Mississippian-style head.  They are standard Mexican day-signs from their ceremonial calendar and virtually identical to those in Codex Fejervary-Mayer:

Day-signs, Codex Fejervary-Mayer

One of the few Mexican manuscripts to survive the Conquest’s book-burning, the Codex is believed to have come from the area of Veracruz, but the calendrical day-signs usually only varied slightly in codices from other cultural areas of Central Mexico.

As hieroglyphs, these day-signs also convey other information. Crocodile is the first day of the 20-day month, and Flower is the last.  (Why are there two of them?)  All I can read into Vulture is that it’s the day right before Earthquake.  But the four Earthquake signs are eloquent. In traditional Mexican cosmology, Four Earthquake is the ceremonial day-name of the current Fifth Sun (or Era).  So the head on the gorget is most likely that of the Mexican god of the Fifth Sun, whom the much later Aztecs called Tonatiuh.  He is familiar as the face in the center of the Stone of the Suns, which is itself the decorative day-sign/name of the Fifth Sun.

This is unambiguous and conclusive evidence of Mesoamerican influence in Mississippi!  Still, I do have to wonder about the three lines on the apparent deity’s face.  In Mexican codices they are most frequently encountered on the goddess of flowing water, Chalchiuhtlicue, the Jade Skirt.  But this face doesn’t look like a female, which in any case is rarely, if ever, encountered in Mississippian art.

This Fifth Sun gorget was found by Charles H. Worley, an employee of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930’s and 40’s who salvaged artifacts from mound sites soon to be flooded by the many dams to be built by the TVA, specifically in the Muscle Shoals area of northwestern Alabama.

Mr. Worley also left ethnographic notes from his Chickasaw associates about their legend of originally being “Toltecs” from Old Mexico who migrated into the Tennessee River Valley.  Don’t be misled by the reference to “Toltecs.” The term here is more indicative of the time period (ca. 900 – 1,200 CE) when that militaristic culture based in Tula (in Anahuac) and Chichen Itza (in Yucatan) controlled much of Mexico.  Many other sophisticated cultures lived in Old Mexico at that time, including the Mixtecs, Zapotecs, Huastecs, and so on.

When the Toltecs invaded the area of Veracruz (per Wikipedia), most of the indigenous Totonacs fled north to Cempoala, but at least one group of refugees evidently continued to trek north along the Gulf Coast, across the Mississippi River, and up into the Tennessee River Valley.

As migrations go (like the Indo-Europeans, Mongols, Huns, and such nomads out of central Asia, or for that matter, Asiatics from Siberia all the way down to Tierra del Fuego), this was simply a hop, skip, and jump.  In addition, there are many good reasons to believe that many people of other Mexican cultures also fled from their Toltec conquerors north into the Mississippi Valley, including Mayans driven out of their magnificent cities of Chichen Itza and Mayapan.  In fact, there was probably a mass exodus.

But then I had a second Eureka! moment.  I googled up another gorget called simply “Muskogee Creek,” suggesting a provenance also in the Tennessee River Valley, with a dramatically Mexican image:

Turkey Gorget – AL

The turkey was the important Mexican symbol of war and military glory, as in the later Aztecs’ god Chalchiuhtotolin, the Jade Turkey.  In my studies of the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Borgia (both from Puebla), I’d often wondered what a strange protrusion out of the turkey’s breast might be.

Turkey, Codex Vaticanus

Definitely unnatural, that plume (?) has to be iconically significant of something, and here I found it again on a turkey from Alabama.   Meanwhile, another gorget from Tennessee presents the quintessentially Mexican motif of the anthropomorphic jaguar:

Jaguar Man gorget – TN

In the codices (primarily Bodley, Nuttall, and Vindobonensis–all three of Mixtec origin), there are many images of traditional Mexican Jaguar Warriors of the Night.

Jaguar Knight, Codex Vindobonensis

The artist of the Tennessee example clearly had the concept down pat but just as clearly wasn’t familiar with the real pattern of a jaguar’s pelt.  (Nor did the Mexicans manage to illustrate realistically the creature’s rows of rosette designs.) Several other Mississippian gorgets with jaguars also show fanciful patterns for the feline which by then and there must have become a purely mythical creature.

Above and beyond their shared tradition of earthworking, these few artistic artifacts alone are more than enough to convince me of a significant Mesoamerican cultural contribution to North America’s Mississippian civilization.

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