This wooden mask presents a human face in classic Aztec style, with lidded almond-shaped eyes and parted lips. Colonial accounts record the Aztec use of gold masks, yet this is the only known example with traces of gold leaf still present. Such masks were gifted to Spaniards as “payment” for leaving Aztec territory, and, before the arrival of the Spanish, similar practices may have impelled other foreigners to leave—which could explain the discovery of this mask in Oaxaca, far from the Aztec capital. The lack of eyeholes suggests that the mask was designed to be worn by a sculptural representation of a deity or a sculpted model of a deceased person; the Aztecs produced surrogate images of high-ranking individuals to accompany their cremated remains.
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