• Articles

    The following articles are published as received by ORO DE MONTE ALBAN under authorization of the authors, the studies and investigations were made by the authors who assumes all the responsibilities, if you wish to copy whole or part of an article we encourage to request permission from the author.

    • Comparing masks

      By George A. Horton

      My work here, is to make a comparison of two very important Amerindian shamanic art pieces. The firs is the Charles Willoughby mask, an incised drawing on a bone, excavated from the Hopewell site, Ross Co. Ohio 1891. The second mask, is the golden breastplate mask excavated by Professor Alfonso Caso in Oaxaca, Mexico 1932. My hope and goal is to show that there could be a possible link between these two masks. I feel it is very possible, the depict the same deity of the Western Underworld, a deity that is still very much a part of traditional contemporary Woodland region (Wm Jones Ethnography of the Fox Indians). Some Mesoamerican Indian religions, also have a deity of the western spirit world. I will start, with the background of these two very unique pieces.


      Charles Willoughby, was a Amateur Archaeologist who rose to the position of Director of the Peabody Museum of Harvard. While he was excavating a major mound and earthwork complex, he found a small round incised bone with carving ( a possible femur). The drawing on the bone was that of an elaborate mask. ( Greber and Ruhl The Hopewell Site) This mask drawing, came froma a rich ceremonial Hopewell cultural site dating around 200 BC to 400 AD. The Hopewell Culture, was the Golden Age of the Woodland Indians, with vast trade networks and exotic art. (John Carlson – Hopewell) “The Hopewell, unlocked the secrets of geometry , developed a sophisticated system of measurement, and even came to understand the great cycles of the Sun and the Moon.” (Wm Romain Mysteries of the Hopewell 2000) Willoughby, placed much time and effort to decode the mask. In his words “combinations can be made from this ingenious design, but I have only reproduced the heads and faces which were evidently in the primitive artists mind when he executed this remarkable carving. The meaning of this figure may never be interpreted.” The second mask, was excavated by Professor Alfonso Caso, at the ruins of Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico. The Professor, worked his way though stucco floors and vault stones to the Tomb named number seven. He was thrilled to find what National Geographic 1932 called, “The riches find of the Americas”. The tomb yielded a wealth of beautiful objects of bone, gold and silver. But of greater importance, it gave us a greater understanding and appreciation of Prehistoric Mesoamerican civilization. Caso like Willoughby, worked hard for interpretation, Caso could see that a Mixteca leader had been placed to rest in a much older Zapoteca tomb. Lets start the comparison of these two masks placed side by side. I feel the top part of both masks represents Sunrises at different times of the year, also I see the masks, as being directional, horizontal and Sun oriented, top east, right south, left north and the bottom west. This would make the top center of each mask the time of the Spring and Fall Equinoxes Sunrise and the bottom of each mask the equinoctial set. On the Hopewell mask, we see a centered Sun between the four humps representing major rise points. On the mixteca we see, two large concentric circles (three ring) being the sign of the Sun and shaman travel in pictograph rock art. (Alex Patterson Rock Art Symbols 1992) The gage, we see reaching out, to the far range of the summer solstice and winter solstice, on both masks, are antlers in different stages of development. It should be noted that two copper head pieces in antler from were found at the Hopewell site, one a full rack (Fall) and the other in young button form (Spring). The symbolism here might place the masks late into prehistoric woodland culture, in Mexico today the Huichol still compare maize growth with antler growth. (Schaffer and Furst People of the Peyote) From here, we will drop to what some folks see as large ears or half circle draped over the head of the masks. The studies and work, on the gold mask shows this to be the very common symbol of the Mesoamerican double headed serpent of fertility. By the general shape, of the drooping Hopewell head piece, these could be very well be heads of serpents. Next we well drop to the central half skull face, it should be noted that on both masks at the area of the forehead there what seems to be a protruding bird beak visor, maybe to protect and shade the face.


      Both masks, have much diving bird or Earth Diver symbolism, which in turn also points toward shamanism and transcendence. I would like to cover bird symbolism one mask at a time. On the Hopewell piece, we see the nose on the face has been replaced by a bill of the Spoonbill Rosette. The Hopewell placed most revered status on this bird, we find its image on Hopewell funerary art.

      With cosmic psychic imaging ( my best guess), these early people saw a very special bird that could change its reddish pink color (shrimp intake) and was blessed with a Sun shaped bill that goes down deep into the murky depths of the under world. This leads us back to Monte Alban and the funerary art of tomb seven. Over and over, one of the central themes of the burial jewelry and also a bone carving was the diving eagle or sunset to the western underworld. According to Prof. Caso the falling eagle represents “The Evening Sun”. We see a diving bird pendant, on the tomb 7 mask, appearing to be falling into a opening, maybe a opening to the underworld. Much clearer on the Hopewell mask bottom drawing, we have a line and a separate space with two ovals. This interpretation is very easy for someone who collects and studies Huichol yarn paintings. The bottom lined off area in these paintings is most often shown with two eyes. The meaning here is, the shaman traveling and seeing into the underworld. The glyph script on the gold mask shows two ways of showing a very important date in time. To me, this could show two groups of people coming together, and agreeing on a calendar date and letting time, not politics, carry on. Look at our current calendar, covered with Gods, Planets and Rulers, Thor, Mars and Augustus, Thursday, March and August. We have covered the two masks, from top to bottom, leaving out the central face and identity of this Lord of the Underworld. Before the Euro conquest I believe there was a high order of Astronomer Priests with high intellect, and a interwoven common belief system. I would like to show that this group of sky watchers shared and linked their knowledge, from what is now the length of North America. I believe a remnant of this old order still is in place today, this may be present today in Amerindian religious beliefs and art symbolism. In many indigenous North American native religions a deity appears in the western land of the spirit world. His half alive, half death appearance with his home in the underworld brings a vision of the devil. This would be far from the truth, in tribal groups he is seen as a gentle and caring keeper of the bones, a friend who helps the Sun on its perilous journey across the underworld to its new birth at sunrise. I have had some success, with Equinoctial astronomical alignment of the prehistoric woodland mounds here in Iowa. This in the Woodland world is when the “Sun goes in a straight line from its eastern lodge to the western lodge of the dead”(Wm Jones). On the Suns journey, the spirits of the dead are collected. On both masks, the centered deity, is Equinoctial between the two solstice Suns, and his dual role of Lord of Life and Death, coming in Spring bring rebirth, planting, life and light and the Fall the opposite. Who was buried in tomb number seven, probably a high ranking Mixtec astronomer priest who greatly identified with the Western deity of the Sunset. Prof. Horst Hartung Univ. of Guadalajara, his work on Astronomical Mixtec knowledge is a must for the serious student. Dr. Terry Stockers new book (A walk through an Aztec Dream 2002) at last shows us the importance of the direction West and the feelings of a Sun worshiper at sun down. At the Monte Alban site, tomb number 7 is the farthest west temple mound and from the west side of mound J a carved stone slab with a diving priest or deity. The deity of the Western under world, went by many different names I will share a few of these. Aztec –Mictlantecuhtli Potawatomi – Chibiabos Fox – Teipaiyaposw. My conclusion is, much more research should be done for the “ Riches find of the Americas “(National Geographic). I would like to see the turquoise incrusted skull from tomb number seven matched with the face of the golden mask. The 30 plus bone carving are some of the finest art work ever done, these should be reproduced, cast for art and study. My name is Geo. Horton, I work on the Union Pacific railroad, I studied and excavated in Tula, Mexico 1972. I have been a long time member of the Iowa Archeological Society. Was honored to attend the Hopewell 2000 Conference, put on by the Center for American Archeology.


      I live in Vining, Iowa near the traditional Fox Indians. My work here, is for a great Fox shaman and friend Leo Keahna. He was respected, from the Northern Cree near the Artic Cicle to the Southern Kickapoo deep into Mexico. We lost Leo, on the Equinox 1997. Special Thanks, to my friend Alberto and ORO DE MONTE ALBAN, for the interest in my work. G

    • Engendering Tomb7 at Montealban. Respinning an Old Yarn

      By Sharisse D. McCafferty and George G. McCafferty

      You can download this article clicking here maskarticle.pdf
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  • Books
    • Bovin, Murray.
      Centrifugal or Lost Wax Jewelry Casting.
      USA: Bovin Publishing, 1971.
    • Caso, Alfonso.
      El Tesoro de Monte Albán.
      México: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1969.
    • Caso, Alfonso.
      Lapidaria y Orfebrería en Oaxaca.
      México: Casa de la Cultura Oaxaqueña, 1990.
    • Choate, Sharr.
      Creative Casting.
      New York: Crown Publishers Inc, 1996.
    • Davis, Mary L. & Pack, Greta.
      Mexican Jewelry.
      USA: University of Texas Press at Austin, 1963.
    • Harvey, Marian.
      Mexican Crafts and Craftspeople.
      USA: The Art Alliance Press, 1987.
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