Turquoise Mosaic Wooden Earspool



Turquoise Mosaic Wooden Earspool


ca. 1490 - 1510 AD


Late Post-Classic
Mesoamerica, Puebla, Tehuacan Valley


Wood, turquoise, shellac
2 3/8 x 1 7/16 in. (6.1 x 3.7 cm)

Object Number



It is rare for portable works of Aztec art to survive into the modern era; few small objects survived the Spanish invasions, during which luxury goods such as turquoise mosaic ornaments were seized or destroyed out of ignorance and greed. We know from the fortuitous discovery of its mate in the storerooms of the Berlin Museum für Volkerkunde, that this particular earspool was safely hidden in a cave south of Tenochtitlan with a cache of other mosaic pieces. This object unites not only the Aztecs (more precisely, the Mexica, the dominant faction in Central Mexico) and their subjects to the south, but the material is an import from what is now the southwestern part of the United States. The Uto-Aztecan language group and extensive trade networks united a swath of North America in antiquity. Greenish stones of all kinds were considered precious, turquoise being no exception, and its being from far away would have only added to its prestige.

To make it, a wooden core was covered in shellac (a sticky insect secretion), and the turquoise pieces inset. There is a subtle radiating line pattern on the front and a hole in the center that originally probably held a gold plug or ornament. Likewise the plain band around the middle of the shaft would have been plated. The faded color, blanks, and other damage have diminished the brilliance of this earspool, just as the voice of the Mexica was all but silenced. However, we can restore the greatness of both by focusing on what remains and imagining its original beauty.

Credit Line

Gift of Cora W. and Laurence C. Witten II


MCCM Permanent Collection Reinstallation, September 2002 - June 2012|
MCCM Permanent Collection Reinstallation, February 9, 2013 - Present
Rebecca Stone-Miller, Seeing With New Eyes: Highlights of the Michael C. Carlos Museum Collection of Art of the Ancient Americas (Atlanta: Michael C. Carlos Museum, 2002), 48, figure 90.


© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Bruce M. White, 2008.
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On View



“Turquoise Mosaic Wooden Earspool,” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed December 16, 2018, http://carlos.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/items/show/7557.

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