4a. The incised pattern on the mouth suggests the figure is a Star God (1/2)

Only recently has a researcher at the University of California - Riverside, Karl Taube, succeeded in identifying an Olmec glyph on pottery and sculpture that was once meant to connote a star deity, probably the morning star more commonly known as the planet Venus. Its shape corresponds to the glyph on the Worcester statuette. In the absence of any written texts from the Olmec culture, deciphering their symbolic language is difficult. However, Peter David Joralemon in his pioneering book A Study in Olmec Iconography (1971) managed to assemble a pantheon of gods based on pictorial forms and by comparison with later depictions of the Maya and other cultures. When studying an Olmec-style potsherd from the site of Tlapacoya (ca. 100 B.C.), Joralemon noted that the fragment depicted a deity’s face with flame eyebrows and “a nose and mouth in the form of the Maya Lamat glyph (!)” The Maya Lamat glyph is a symbol denoting Venus, or the morning star, but Joralemon seems to have punctuated his observation with an exclamation point to emphasize how singular and unique this iconographic motif appeared to him. Taube has subsequently managed to locate the motif on a few other Mesoamerican objects, but it remains very rare. Worcester’s statuette is for Taube the only known figurine bearing the Venus sign across its mouth. This probably means the human-like figure is intended to represent the morning star god.

Images:
Second Row Left: Photographic tracing showing the incision pattern around the mouth of the Incised Standing Figure, Kim Noonan, Worcester Art Museum.

Second Row Right: Tracing of a potsherd from Tlapacoya (ca. 100 B.C.) showing eyes and flame eyebrows and a nose or mouth in the form of a Maya Lamat glyph (sign for Venus/Morning Star), Peter David Joralemon, A Study in Olmec Iconography (Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks and the Trustees for Harvard University, 1971), fig. 140

Third Row: Photographic tracings of two Olmec glyphs representing the morning star, Karl A. Taube.

Next: 4a. The incised pattern on the mouth suggests the figure is a Star God (2/2)
Previous Page Next Page Home Chapter Outline