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Still Waters

The Tuxtla Statuette: What secrets does this 1,800-year-old carved stone hold?

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Still Waters

In 1902, an Indigenous man plowing a field near the Tuxtla Mountains in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, unearthed a green stone the size of a large mango—a piece of jadeite with carvings depicting a stout human figure with a shamanic bird’s bill. Along its sides was a set of hieroglyphs.

Before long, the Tuxtla Statuette (as it became known) made its way to the United States, and in 1903 to the Smithsonian. At first, archaeologists thought the statuette’s markings were Mayan; southern Mexico rests within the heart of the Mayan civilization, where Mayan dialects are still spoken today. But one observer felt unsure. Charles Pickering Bowditch—a Boston businessman, philanthropist and scholar of Mesoamerica who served on the faculty at Harvard’s Peabody Museum—compared the hieroglyphs with a card catalog he had assembled of all the Mayan characters then available. “I cannot find any real likeness between the two kinds of glyphs,” he wrote in 1907. Bowditch argued that the statuette carried an unknown indigenous language—one with no clear relative.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/secrets-jadeite-tuxtula-statuette-180978581/

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