The Development of the Feathered Serpent in Mesoamerica and the American Southwest

Author(s): Cassandra Casteel; Christine VanPool

Year: 2016


Mesoamerican and Southwestern researchers debate the origins, meanings, and influence of the feathered serpent. Some believe that the Southwestern horned serpent is derived from the Mesoamerican feathered serpent, while others believe the Southwestern serpent tradition developed largely independently from other regional traditions. Those contending that Southwestern and Mesoamerican serpents are connected rely on similar meanings of the serpents, such as its association with rain and fertility, while those arguing for local developments rely on differences in morphological traits of the serpents (e.g., Aztec’s Quetzalcoatl being a rattlesnake with a body covered in quetzal feathers whereas Zuni’s Kolowisi has a smooth, featherless body with a headdress of turkey feathers and a wooden horn). Both perspectives tend to view the relationship in an "all-or-nothing" manner, without really considering the possibility for combinations of historically shared and independently developed traits. Here we use phylogenetic analysis to examine morphological data (e.g., placement of plumes, tail form, and mouth and eye shape) and archaeological context (e.g., associated mural images, architectural features, etc.) to identify homologous and analogous traits. Our results break down the dichotomy by identifying which traits reflect historical connections, and reconstructing the historical development of classes of serpents (e.g., Aztec and Maya).

Cite this Record

The Development of the Feathered Serpent in Mesoamerica and the American Southwest. Cassandra Casteel, Christine VanPool. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 404979)

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Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;