Mexico, Izapa, Chiapas, 100 BC-AD 250
Tecali and cinnabar
Length: 15-3/4 inches (40 cm)
Diameter: 2-1/2 inches (6.5 cm)
Provenance: Spanish private collection

This deeply carved stone cylinder is a trumpet. Schematic designs, incised and carved in four registers, represent two dragons with upturned scrolled snouts, fearsome teeth, and flame eyebrows, each within a demarcated zone. Their wings or limbs are in the alternating registers. Two profiles form each creature. It is as if they were split down the middle and splayed around the instrument. Small circular cavities may have been inlaid. Red cinnabar highlights the motifs.

Izapa is a site located just within Mexico near its border with Guatemala, not far from the Pacific coast. Few organic remains exist for carbon dating to pinpoint the civilization’s apogee; however, scholars believe that Izapa was continually settled from about 600 BC (but perhaps as early as 1500 BC) to 900 AD. Its geographic location — between the heartland of the Olmec and Maya civilizations — has long been thought to be crucial for the transmission of ideas and art motifs between the two, separated as they are by time. Nearby Kaminaljuyu, on the Guatemala side of the modern border, was a locus of the nascent Maya culture. Some cultural hallmarks of the Maya that derive from the Olmec include theocratic kingships, the ballgame, bloodletting, and many analogous gods.

Izapa sculptures display jaguar and dragon motifs, flame eyebrows, downturned mouths, and scrolls, all design elements found in Olmec art. Early Izapan style often takes the form of a thick type of low relief, as here.

Musical instruments do not survive in great quantity because many were made of perishable materials: wooden flutes, and wooden, hide-covered drums. However, music was undoubtedly an important part of pageantry throughout Mesoamerica. Happily, this instrument, carved of a sturdy Mexican alabaster called “tecali”, endured.