On Mexican Antiquities

In A WHISPER OF BONE, we meet Carlos Tetzopa, a visiting professor from the National Mexican Museum.

Such was the name of the museum as it opened in 1825. Since then, the museum has gone through a number of name changes. In 1910, it was changed to  the National Museum of Archaeology, History and Ethnography.

Later, its name shifted yet again. Today, it’s known as the Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Museum of Anthropology). Filled with archaeological and anthropological artifacts from the pre-Columbian era, this treasure box should be on the ‘not to be missed’ list for anyone who visits Mexico City.*

Two artifacts stand out in my book.

The first, the fragile fragment of an Aztec chīmalli, a ceremonial shield consisting of ocelot skin, feathers of numerous bird species, and beadwork is very much based on reality. 

You can see the Aztec god Xolotl holding one such shield in this image accompanying the post, an image from the Codex Tudelia. 

Then truth becomes fiction. We play “what if”. What if one of those feathers came from some unknown species? What if it’s not from a bird, not exactly…

Next, we’re introduced to an ancient Mixtec terracotta pot decorated with geometrical motifs in red and black. Who are the Mixtecs? An indigenous Mesoamerican people from the region near Oaxaca in Mexico. The name Mixtec was given to them by the Aztec and means “cloud people” – but the names they have for themselves all roughly translate to “land of the rain”.

It’s from the Mixtec that we learn a sealed pot was recovered, then hidden. Why? Because inside they discovered a precious codex… that defied explanation. (Take a look at actual Mixtec pottery.)

Such a codex would most likely have been a folded book (its pages painted white then decorated with glyphs) made from amate, fig-bark paper, much like those of the Maya. However, the Mixtec also used stretched deerskin sewn into long strips.

Which is where we once again play with “what if”. What if it wasn’t fig bark, wasn’t deer skin, but was instead – again – an unidentifiable species?

Our professor goes on to explain that “koo savi” was the Mixtec name given to the feathered, flying serpent known by other names such as the Aztec’s “Quetzalcoatl” and the Mayan’s “K’uk’ulkan”?

What if the glyph of the koo savi was also a representation of the animal that had been used to make the “paper” of such a codex?

What if an extinct animal’s skin could be used to bring them back from the dead?

On Mexican Antiquities

*Sorry, mom, for being such an annoying pre-teen when you took me to visit this museum. Regardless, seeing the Aztec Sun Stone in person formed a lasting impression.




About Anne

Though USA TODAY bestselling author Anne Renwick holds a Ph.D. in biology and greatly enjoyed tormenting the overburdened undergraduates who were her students, fiction has always been her first love. Today, she writes steampunk romance, placing a new kind of biotech in the hands of mad scientists, proper young ladies and determined villains.

Anne brings an unusual perspective to steampunk. A number of years spent locked inside the bowels of a biological research facility left her permanently altered. In her steampunk world, the Victorian fascination with all things anatomical led to a number of alarming biotechnological advances. Ones that the enemies of Britain would dearly love to possess.

To chat with Anne, stop by on Facebook or join the Department of Cryptobiology Facebook group. You can also join her newsletter list to have cover reveals, sneak peaks, sales and giveaways delivered straight to your inbox.


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