Eagle Relief

Date: 10th–13th century

Geography: Mexico, Mesoamerica

Culture: Toltec

Medium: Andesite/dacite, paint

Dimensions: Overall: 24 1/2 x 30 1/2 in., 90lb. (62.23 x 77.47 cm)

Classification: Stone-Sculpture

Credit Line: Gift of Frederic E. Church, 1893

Accession Number: 93.27.2


While stone relief panels with this image decorate architectural structures at Tula, capital of the Toltec people in central Mexico, and at the Maya site of Chichén Itzá in Yucatan, this example of carved limestone was apparently found in the northern part of the Mexican state of Veracruz. It depicts a raptor in profile. The head is bent and the impressive bird pecks at a tri-lobed object held in a massive talon. The motif is believed to represent an eagle devouring a human heart. In ancient Mexican thought, eagles, souring high into the sky, were symbols of the sun. The sun needed strength to survive the dangerous nightly journey through the darkness of the underworld, and then to rise again each morning. It was the obligation of human beings to provide nourishment for the sun's journey. That food was in the form of human hearts and blood.
This panel, along with another similar relief, was among the first Precolumbian Mexican objects to enter the Museum collection. The two reliefs were the gift of the well-known American painter Frederic Church in 1893.