Disc from Chichén Itzá

Colourful disc with Maya design

Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia
Photo: Ignacio Guevara

This wooden disc is decorated with a mosaic of turquoise, shell, coral and slate representing four feathered snakes in profile.

The design is divided in sections that mark the cardinal directions of the Mesoamerican cosmos. The feathered snake was an important symbol in all Mesoamerican cultures.

In 1936 archaeologist Manuel Cirerol Sansores found this piece in the interior of the south chamber of the sub-structure in the Castillo at Chichén Itzá. The disc was found on a stone throne painted red to symbolise a jaguar.

Called tezcacuitlapilli in Nahuatl, this type of disk has been identified with objects worn on the back of the waist by Toltec warriors. The mosaic designs are very similar to those found in the Quemado Palace in Tula, Hidalgo.

It shows that Chichén Itzá had contact with other regions, including the southeast of North America, where the turquoise came from. Ornaments of this nature give us insight into a range of relations - including trade, dynastic ties, alliances, and rivalry - that interconnected the Maya area with contemporary societies in Central Mexico, especially during the Toltec horizon.