The “pretty ladies” of Tlatilco – Mexico


The village development is considered as the marker of the beginning of the Middle Preclassic period (1200-400 BC) in central Mexico, in this period primitive village life was transformed and became increasingly complex. The dominant populations were generating networks of exchange, which determine its rapid growth, while new settlements were established in various regions of ancient Mexico.

One of those villages, Tlatilco (northwest of present day Mexico City) was one of the first in this part of the valley on the shores of Lake Texcoco. The name that now refers to this culture, Tlatilco, is a Nahuatl word meaning “where there are things hidden.” This name apparently derives from the fact that the Nahua came to the area when the original culture had disappeared and could only see little evidence of their artistic expressions in the thick vegetation. Another theory proposes that the word comes from tlalxicco, the fiery center of the world, “instead of the navel of the earth,” where the god of fire Xiuhtecuhtli.

In 1942 Miguel Covarrubias began the archaeological exploration of the site after excavations unearthed a number of tombs and relics related to funerary offerings. The second phase of excavations were conducted from 1947 to 1950, being located 221 burials and numerous pieces of pottery. The third and fourth campaign highlighted the occupation period to 1450 BC, Ayotla phase (period prior to 1000 years BC).

Tlatilco agricultural settlement, situated beside a small stream and near the western shore of Lake Texcoco, 2275 m, may have originated from El Arbolillo and Zacatenco, primitive cultures with clear influence from the Olmec culture the lowlands, this is reflected in the representation of feline, in pottery and stone sculptures.

The tombs discovered has provided abundant material, protruding ceramic human figures, some large (hollow and painted red) and other small (solid and made with incredible skill.) The latter often representing half-naked young women, dressed with elaborate headdresses, skirts small or partially covered with body paint. They are represented with wide hips, prominent breasts and genitals, suggesting a condition associated with female fertility rites.

His facial features are always very stylish, enigmatic and even no expression. The arms are often disproportionate and conventionally (glued or parallel to the trunk). In all images emphasizes the representation of the breasts, pubic area and thighs bulging, emphasizing primary sexual attributes. They are decorated with incised lines and paintings that resemble the headdresses of the women of pre-classical cultures decorating their bodies with tattoos, paintings or scarification. It is interesting to note that these figures are more elaborate in its front, in posterior areas there are very few details and the anatomy is only hinted at.

These images, according to most researchers, to have their sexual characteristics so marked, should be related to fertility cults, both human and agricultural. The statues identified as “pretty ladies” would have constituted the iconographic elements of a primitive fertility cult.

Particularly noteworthy representations of two-headed female images which some archaeologists would be masked shamans or witch doctors participating in a cult of the monstrous forms. This interpretation maintains some distance with that of “female duality” allocated similar iconographic images recorded in the Valdivia culture

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