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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”.

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