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WAM Updates are short, informal posts that put the spotlight on small, but exciting, Museum-related projects, such as the addition of a new painting or sculpture to a gallery. They also serve as updates on staff, new services or programs, and other WAM news.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Olmec "Incised Standing Figure" may be a Star God

Together with Professor Karl Taube at the University of California, Riverside, I have been researching a WAM Olmec object formerly titled Figure of a Man, but now more accurately labeled Incised Standing Figure. The object was once owned by the famous Mexican caricaturist, Miguel Covarrubias, who was also an important archaeologist. He was a friend of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. All three artists shared a passion for Mexico’s history. When the object entered WAM’s collection in 1958, the marks around its mouth remained a mystery. Dr. Taube has now plausibly suggested the pattern of incisions relate to other Olmec glyphs of a star sign, probably the morning star more commonly identified as the planet Venus. Venus appears in the sky for roughly three hours after sunset and three hours before sunrise. Later Mexican cultures envisioned a great battle between the morning star and the rising sun, and the morning star seems to have held symbolic importance for warriors. The Maya, who succeeded the Olmec in coastal Veracruz and Tabasco, established the long count of their calendar system with the aid of Venus. So Worcester’s object may be one of the earliest depictions of this Mesoamerican star deity in human form – created around 2,800 years ago. To learn more about this object, watch for it in the Jeppson Idea Lab on the third floor opening November 14th.

Learn more about Incised Standing Figure

-John Garton, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Clark University

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