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Olmec ceremonial axe

Olmec ceremonial axe
ca. 800–600 BC
Veracruz State, Mexico
31 x 17 x 12 cm
Leo Stein Collection
Presented by Thea Heye

Blade-shaped objects appear in many Mesoamerican cultures. Such Olmec objects are referred to as votive or ceremonial axes. They have large heads and tapering bodies that narrow into a blade. The broad groove separating the head from the body suggests hafting for a stone axe. The head is always craved with great detail and is in fact three-dimensional, while the arms and legs are indicated with very low carving and finely incised lines. The arms are always folded in front of the body, with one hand above the other. The figure may be holding a knife. Deeper carving is seen in the rendering of the headband, nose, and mouth. The mouth is down-turned, as is typical in Olmec art. The fangs suggest that a deity is being depicted. Though not visible from the front, there is a cleft in the back of the head. Different Olmec ceremonial axes have been associated with different deities, but all are believed to be related to ceremonies associated with the clearing new fields for planting maize and other crops.

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