Pietro Gaietto

Fig 1 Mask of Mexico
Courtesy Prof.Gian Carlo Bojani Director of the International Museum of the Ceramics in Faenza

The ancient zooantropomorphic ceramics of Mexico in relation to the zooantropomorphic lihic sculpture of the European Paleolithic The two zooantropomorphic ceramics, that I here consider, are considered " masks ", but they are not " masks " used for mask himself, even if they can derive from " true masks ", made in wood, of similar types, in equatorial Africa.
A mask represents a face

Fig 1 Drawing of the sculpture in ceramics

half human with hairdress, central elliptic eye with pupilla, ear with perforated lobe, open nose and mouth; the other half represents a feline or a dog with pierced round eye. height cm.22,8, widht. cm. 20. (central Mexico, III hundert. B. C. - III hundert a. C. Upper Preclassic Period) (International Museum of the Ceramics in Faenza. Italy)
The other mask represents a face for half of a living man,

Fig.2 Drawing of a sculpture in ceramics

the other half a skull. The eye and the orbital zone are pierced. Heightcm. 8.5, largh. cm. 7.3. (Tlatilco, Mexico, medium Preclassico Period.) (National Museum of Anthropology of City of Mexico.)
This maskmaschera is described in the Museum like characterization of the dualism life - death.
The affinities between the two masks are constituted from the representation of the tongue outside from the mouth. In the head of animal (Fig. 1) the pointed tongue seems to me human, while in the human head (Fig. 2) the tongue seems to me seems of dog, in how much it has equal width for all the length, and protrudes touching the chin.. In these half faces (for the tongue) there is a mix animal - man (Fig. 1), and man - animal (Fig. 2). Moreover, in both the masks, the tongues are on the left. It can be a coincidence, but it can have meaning, if others exist, and all have the tongue on the left. In the tibetan ethnography the tongue outside from the mouth, and the hands in ahead with the raised inches, are a salute shape. Therefore, between the interpretations of these masks, in considering the tongue outside from the mouth, we have to consider also the " salute ".
The half head (Fig. 2), representing the skull, and representing the death , to me does not represent a human skull, but a skull of mammal. I deduce it from the swell to right in the zone of the ear of the mammals, and from the great orbital zone. However the teeth have something of human , and therefore, the skull can be considered of an " humanized animal".
These types of zooantropomorphic representations re-enter in the bifrontism. The two-faced anthropomorhic representations are found in all the times, and nearly in all the world. The two-faced anthropomorhic representations are in greater number and, generally, they join two heads with look in opposite direction, of which most famous it is two-faced Giano.
The origin of the bifrontism is in the Lower Paleolithic, and goes uninterruptedly until the historical times.The bifrontism, in the Paleolithic, is found only in the sculpture of western Europe, why there have been made intense searches here, but it is probable that it is present also in other continents.
The two-faced zooantropomorphic sculpture of the Paleolithic joins for the nape a head of animal to a human head, generally, with look in opposite direction. Others, much rare, like that one that I introduce here, join a half head of animal to half head of man with look in ahead, like the two Mexican masks.
This sculpture has been fouhd from the Prof. Leslie Freeman of the University of Chicago and from Spanish archeologists at El Juyo, Santander in Spain (now conserved at the Museum of Altamira). The lithica sculpture of El Juyo represents a little roughly a half human head with beard and moustaches, and a half head of feline .

Fig 3 Drawing of the sculpture in stone

Interpretation of the sculpture

It is cm 35 height, wide cm.32,5, thick cm.22,5. The sculpture does not have pedestal, as they do not have it the two mexican masks .
It is made on a stone block with a natural fissure to half, an other split close to the base, with a fossil incrusted on a side.
In the half of the human face at right, the fossil and the crack suggest to an eye and the smiling mouth .
Engravings near the eye, and other lines that extend from the mouth, and crossing the face, indicate lips and teeths.
A removal of material, produced from a decided blow, produces a second eye and a nose, teeth, moustaches; the junction of hats and the beard have been carved in the stone with linear signs. Lip and chin are punctuated with rows of black dots.
In the left side a half snout of feline is represented, in how much has a tear duct a lot engraved, a long snout intentionally smoothed down , that in triangular engraving finishes , shaping the nose of the animal. It has protruding tusk, and lines of black dots in order to indicate the hair on the snout.
The discoverers think to a lion or a leopard, that 14.000 years ago lived at El Juyo.
This sculpture has been found to the entrance of a cave. This place, from the discoverers, is considered " templum ", in how much is composed from an altar, constituted from a monolith of the weight nearly one ton, in horizontal position, placed on an earth cumulus high nearly a meter, containing rests of probable " offers ".
Of forehead to the altar was placed this bifaced sculpture
The cave of El Juyo is a " temple " the most ancient knew.
The cultural attribution is the Upper Paleolithic, and the dating is of 14,000 years ago.
In the study of the religions of the historical periods the two-faced representations are considered representations of a omniscient, all-seeing God. To me, therefore, also the two Mexican masks could represent a god.
The two-faced zooantropomorphic sculpture of El Juyo is to consider of magdalenian age, but not of magdalenian civilization, in how much the Magdalenians painted only animals in the caves, did not have lithic sculpture, they did not have altars, and they had a type of cult not connected to a god.
The great monolith that constitutes the altar in the cave is at origin of open "temples".
The men of El Juyo still do not have a name, in how much they are not Magdalenians.


- Ceramiche precolombiane di Antonio Guarnotta, Museo Internazionale delle ceramiche in Faenza, Catalogo generale a cura di Gian Carlo Bojani, 1985
- Prescultura e scultura preistorica, P.Gaietto, Genova, 1982
- "Un santuario intatto : El Juyo", L.G.Freeman, R.G.Klein, J.G.Echegaray in Miti e riti della preistoria a cura di F.Facchini e P.Magnani, Jaca Book, Milano, 2000
(tratto da Stone age sanctuary, Natural History 8/1983, pp.47 - 52)

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