An Army of Winged Souls: Butterfly Iconography in Teotihuacan

Author(s): Jesper Nielsen

Year: 2017


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 culture, emphasizing the belief that butterflies are related to the souls of deceased warriors. In this paper I examine Teotihuacan butterfly iconography in the perspective of one of the greatest natural wonders of the Americas - the yearly return of billions of monarch butterflies to the central Mexican highlands - and I suggest that this spectacular phenomenon played a central role in the initial development of the idea of the transformation and return of the dead in the shape of butterflies.

Cite this Record

An Army of Winged Souls: Butterfly Iconography in Teotihuacan. Jesper Nielsen. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429469)


Spatial Coverage

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

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 12158