Arroyo Pesquero, Southeastern Veracruz, Mexico 2007


DEFENSE DATE: April 11th, 2011 @ 1:00PM (Anthropology Lab MH-422) California State University, Fullerton.

Early Representations of Mesoamerica's Feathered Serpent: Power, Identity, and the Spread of a Cult
2011 © Santiago Andres Garcia

Santiago Andres Garcia
Department of Anthropology and Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies, California State University, Fullerton.

KEYWORDS: Olmec, Feathered Serpent, regional cults, cult ceramics, inter-regional interaction, Formative period, Mesoamerica.

ABSTRACT In this thesis, an analysis of the earliest representations of a serpent with avian-like features reveals that Mesoamerica’s Feathered Serpent appeared first during the Formative period (1500-400 B.C.), and played a more important role in Formative society than scholars have previously held. I argue that pottery of the Early Formative period (1400-900 B.C.), carved with the following motifs: “St. Andrew’s cross,” “hand-paw-wing,” “flame-eyebrow,” and “U-gum bracket,” referred to here as “Earth & Sky” (or “Earth & Sky imagery”), depict an Avian Serpent (e.g., Cheetham 2010; Taube 1995). Individuals from the site of San José Mogote (the Valley of Oaxaca), and the site of Tlatilco (the Basin of Mexico) used this pottery in burials and households to mark status and identity (Marcus 1989; Tolstoy 1989). Similar pottery from the site of San Lorenzo (the Gulf Coast of Mexico), does not appear to have been used as a status item, but might have been used in local household activities, display, or ritual. Additionally, Avian-Serpent imagery on monuments from the Gulf Coast links the Avian Serpent to the legitimization of some members of the Olmec hierarchy, which might have been rulers or religious leaders. Taking this a step further, an analysis of Avian Serpents varied style and different uses across the region suggest that members of a religious network may have propelled the wide appearance of Avian-Serpent imagery during the Early Formative period. The Avian Serpent could have been the symbol of a regional cult, like the regional cult described by Blomster (1998, 2010), which he believes was responsible for the use and/or invention of hollow-baby figurines and the spread of religion and cosmology during the Early Formative period. During this period, complex society in Mesoamerica was in full swing, and a foundation for later advancements was built.

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