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The Big Cats of Chalcatzingo

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 | Did you know? | 0 comment | 18 September 2011 - 19:28:13

tags  ChalcatzingoOlmecMesoamerican

The Big Cats of Chalcatzingo
Hillary Smith
A rock carving depicting three big cats, likely jaguars, has recently been unearthed in Chalcatzingo, Mexico. The site is located in central Mexico, 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Mexico City. The stone monolith, called the “Triad of Felines” by the archeological community, dates to c. 700 BCE. It stands 1.5 meters (5 feet) tall and 1.1 meters (3.6 feet) wide. Since 1935, nearly 40 large stone carvings have been found at the Chalcatzingo site. Like this discovery, many of the Chalcatzingo carvings portray cats.
The style of depiction clearly shows the influence of the Olmec civilization, which existed in south-central Mexico from c. 1500 to 400 BCE. In the “Triad of Felines”, the cats are show as sitting, an unusual composition in Olmec-style art. However, the stylized facial features of the cats are evocative of traditional Olmec masks. Other aspects of the frieze also recall traditional Olmec figuration.
While the Chalcatzingo peoples were not part of the Olmec culture, they likely traded with the Olmec. Through this interaction, the Chalcatzingo peoples adopted and augmented aspects of Olmec artistry. The Olmec often produced sculpture in the round where as the Chalcatzingo peoples often produced reliefs, such as the “Triad of Felines”.

Big cats were often revered by Mesoamerican cultures because of the threat they presented to humans. The “Triad of Felines”, along with the frequency of cat depiction in other artifacts from Chalcatzingo, suggests cats may have played a significant role in Olmec religion and mythology. Archeologists believe the “Triad of Felines” is only a segment of a longer frieze placed on the Chalcatzingo hill from 800 to 500 BCE. It is possible that the frieze marked a pilgrimage route.

Source: Information from “Spectacular” Three-Cat Monolith Unearthed in Mexico by Ker Than for National Geographic News
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