Butterflies Take Wing: Ritual and Symbolism in Precolumbian Mesoamerica

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

Butterfly imagery has been present for thousands of years in Mesoamerica whether painted, modelled, or sculpted. Its life cycle, bright colours, and soaring flight captivated the mind of culturally diverse peoples in the Americas for its significance as a symbol of renewal, transformation, fire, war, and death. This session draws on a diverse range of methodological enquiries based on recent iconographic and archaeological research about butterfly representation in Mesoamerica: ceramics from West Mexico, Toltec sculptures, Zapotec effigy vessels, Teotihuacan ceramics and mural paintings, and Postclassic books (codices) and gold. The methodologically and thematically diverse papers aim to grasp the multifaceted nature of the butterfly, an insect that incorporated the ideology of this rich cultural area. Through the lens of several Mesoamerican specialists, this session will throw new light onto its context-related associations, identify processes of information transmittal and emulation, and thus elucidate its implications in each cultural milieu.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-9 of 9)

  • Documents (9)

  • The Afterlife in Exile: Butterfly Imagery on Teotihuacan-style Censers from the Pacific Coast of Guatemala (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Annabeth Headrick. Dorie Reents-Budet.

    The Teotihuacan-style censers from Guatemala have received relatively little attention since the 1980s. Following upon earlier suggestions for a merchant-warrior presence in the Escuintla region, this study examines the butterfly imagery on a group of Teotihuacan-style censers in the national collections of Guatemala. This group of unprovenanced artifacts has research value because (1) its original imagery is intact, and (2) all have been sampled for paste analysis (instrumental neutron...

  • An Army of Winged Souls: Butterfly Iconography in Teotihuacan (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jesper Nielsen.

    In no other culture in ancient Mesoamerica do we find butterflies represented as frequently as in the iconography of the central Mexican metropolis of Teotihuacan (c. 0-600). Appearing in mural art, painted on stuccoed tripod vessels and in the shape of clay adornos attached to incense burners, these winged creatures undoubtedly held a special place in Teotihuacan worldview and religion. Interpretations of butterfly symbolism at Teotihuacan is often based on analogies with Late Postclassic Aztec...

  • Butterfly Imagery among the Classic Period Zapotecs of the Valley of Oaxaca (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Robert Markens.

    This paper explores the meaning of butterfly imagery among Classic period Zapotecs of the Valley of Oaxaca. Images of butterflies, or parts of their anatomy, sometimes appear on effigy vessels found in tombs. The effigy vessels represent rulers, or other individuals of high social-standing, as jaguars, owls or the Fire Serpent. I argue that rulers of Zapotec urban centers were perceived to have a number of specific naguales or alter-egos that constitute the moral basis of political power. The...

  • The Butterfly-Solar Complex in West Mexico: Information Transmittal and Design Structure (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Agapi Filini.

    During the Classic period, butterfly motifs encountered throughout Mesoamerica are indicative of diverse kinds of interaction with the city of Teotihuacan. Highly standardized stuccoed and painted ceramics from the lacustrine region of Michoacán, West Mexico, were used as the principal medium to project a major iconographic theme: the Butterfly-Solar Complex, which was very likely related to a Teotihuacan solar militaristic ideology. Symbolic meanings were encoded in symmetrical panels which...

  • Flying on the West: the Butterfly Imagery in the Aztatlán Iconography: Meaning and Worldview. (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Susana Ramirez-Urrea De Swartz.

    The Aztatlán Tradition is a widespread cultural and economical system in West and Northwest Mexico from AD 850 to 1300. The Aztatlán iconography is remarkable, not only because it is rich in the variety of images and icons related to the codices, but also because it reflects a concept related to the worldview of the Aztatlán groups (and others in Central Mexico and the Mixteca-Puebla region). Butterfly imagery seems to be part of it. Some of the ceremonial vessels used in rituals or found as...

  • From Flame to Flowers: Moths and Butterflies in the Codex Borgia Group (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Susan Milbrath.

    Butterfly imagery in the Borgia Group shows how these volatiles were classified in Postclassic Central Mexico. They are grouped with birds among the 13 "lords of the day" in the Codex Borgia, and they sometimes seem to be interchangeable with moths, especially in imagery of the Fire God. Another god, Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl, is associated with images of "army worms" devouring maize, symbolizing the caterpillar stage of a moth that distributes its eggs in the wind. Butterfly symbols are naturally...

  • Gold (Tumbaga) and Butterfly Symbolism (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Elizabeth Baquedano.

    When metals were introduced in Mesoamerica ca. AD 850 they were used with both utilitarian and decorative purposes. Copper artifacts were turned into fishing hooks, tweezers, or axes. However, silver and gold were mostly used in jewelry production. Several deities were fashioned in gold as well as animals associated with gods. They included pendants, nose-rings, necklaces, etc. Warriors were also depicted as pendants, and there are examples in discs too. The context where the objects have been...

  • Iconografia de la mariposa en Tula, Hidalgo (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Fernando Getino Granados.

    Representaciones de mariposas en la escultórica de la antigua ciudad de Tula, se observan en edificios monumentales y conjuntos habitacionales comunes. Aparece en forma de pectoral de las cariátides que sostenían los techos de los templos principales. Este distintivo también identifica a guerreros sacrificados, representados como altares dentro de espacios ceremoniales. El pectoral lo portan además gobernantes en pilastras y seres mitológicos en lápidas. Atributos de la mariposa se distinguen en...

  • Los Tocados de Mariposa en las Figurillas de la Fase Coyotlateleco de la Cuenca de México (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Raul E. Garcia Chavez. David Arreola.

    Durante el Clásico, las figurillas teotihuacanas, han sido consideradas representaciones de deidades. Recientes estudios, se han enfocado sobre la posibilidad de que esas figurillas representen retratos de altos dignatarios, como gobernantes o guerreros, y cuyas imágenes habrían sido veneradas como parte de una ideología de estado. Las figurillas despliegan una gran variedad de "tocados" entre los que destacan los de mariposas, que se asociarian con altos dignatarios y el poder político.Con la...