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Jade votive axe - 1200-400 BCE

Olmec, from Mexico

Height: 29 cm, Width: 13.5 cm

The Olmec fashioned votive axes in the form of figures carved from jade, jadeite, serpentine and other greenstones. The figures have a large head and a small, stocky body that narrows into a blade shape. They combine features of a human and other animals, such as jaguar, eagle or toad. The mouth is slightly opened, with a flaring upper lip and the corners turned down. The flaming eyebrows seen on this example are also a recurrent feature, and have been interpreted as a representation of the crest of the harpy eagle.

Most axes, including this one, have a pronounced cleft in the middle of the head. This cleft has been interpreted by scholars variously as the open fontanelle (soft spot) on the crown of newborn babies, the deep groove in the skull of male jaguars, or that found on the head of certain species of toads. In some instances vegetation sprouts out of some of them. These combinations of human and animal traits and representations of supernatural beings are common in Olmec art.

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