Art of the Americas to World War I
- Introduction to the Aztecs (Mexica)
- More on the Aztecs (Mexica)
- Unearthing the Aztec past, the destruction of the Templo Mayor
- Templo Mayor at Tenochtitlan, the Coyolxauhqui Stone, and an Olmec Mask
- Codex Borgia
- Tlaloc vessel
- Serpent mask of Quetzalcoatl or Tlaloc
- The Sun Stone (The Calendar Stone)
- Coyolxauhqui Stone
- Monolith of Tlaltecuhtli (Earth Lord)
- Double-headed serpent
- The House of the Eagles, and sculptures of Mictlantecuhtli and Eagle Warrior
- Eagle Warrior (Mexica)
- Stone kneeling figure of Chalchiuhtlicue
- Mosaic mask of Tezcatlipoca
- Brazier of Chicomecoatl
- Sacrificial Knife with Mosaic Handle and Chalcedony Blade
- Aztec art and feasts for the dead
- Feathered headdress
- Aztec feathered headdress: backstory
- Remembering the Toxcatl Massacre: The Beginning of the End of Aztec Supremacy
- Painting Aztec History
A sacrificial knife
The handle of this knife is carved from a single piece of wood (Cedrela odorata) and takes the form of a crouching man wearing the regalia of an eagle warrior. The warrior looks out from the open beak of the eagle headdress and clasps the haft of the flint knife.
Eagle warriors were a prestigious military order, the "fighters of the daytime." In Mexica mythology the eagle represented the power of the day and was believed to carry the sun into the sky from the underworld each morning.
The handle of this knife is covered with mosaic made from turquoise, shell and malachite. At least four kinds of shell are used: red Spondylus (thorny oyster), white Strombus (conch), pink Stombus gigas (queen conch) and iridescent Pinctada (mother-of-pearl). Pine resin is used to hold the mosaic in place. The hafting of the blade is bound with cord made from maguey (Agave) fibre and coated with pale yellow Protium resin.
Plain, unadorned knives served many practical purposes in hunting, food preparation and warfare, while more ornate decorated examples were probably reserved for ritual sacrifice. Flint blades were often placed in temple offerings, sometimes set vertically in resin to represent the glyph tecpatl (meaning flint or sacrificial knife). This glyph is associated with one of the "year-bearers" in the 260-day Mexica calendar and with the north cardinal point, the direction of death and cold.
Only a few elaborately decorated knife handles survive. This one is a rare example where the blade and handle have survived together. Radiography (above) has revealed that the hafting is far too shallow for the knife to have been fit for practical use so its ceremonial purpose must have been symbolic rather than functional.
*The people and culture we know as "Aztec" referred to themselves as the Mexica (pronounced 'Mé-shee-ka').
C. R. Cartwright and N. D. Meeks, "Aztec conch shell working: high- tech design," British Museum Technical Research Bulletin 1, (2007), 35-42
C. McEwan, A. Middleton, C. Cartwright, R. Stacey, Turquoise mosaics from Mexico (London, The British Museum Press, 2006)
C. McEwan, Ancient Mexico in the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1994).
R. J. Stacey, C. R. Cartwright and C. McEwan "Chemical Characterisation of Ancient Mesoamerican ‘Copal’ Resins: Preliminary Results." Archaeometry 48, (2006), 323-340.
© Trustees of the British Museum
Want to join the conversation?
- Where was this knife found?(7 votes)
- These knife are of the Aztecs which live in the mexico but they live on the Mexico city , sos these knife might be found there when Mexico city was building .(4 votes)
- How was the knife discovered ?(4 votes)
- I think they thought something would happen to them if they don't put an offering so they built(1 vote)
- If A sacifaical knife is broken, to they still use it?(3 votes)
- Sacrifices of the type for which the knife was used ceased to be done about 500 years ago. So, no, it is no longer used.(2 votes)
- How many knives have been found total?(1 vote)
- It only names one but there must be many in the possesion of humans as of now/2016(1 vote)
- what is the edge of the knife made out of(1 vote)
- It is It is Chalcedony ( /kælˈsɛdəni/). A cryptocrystalline form of silica, composed of very fine intergrowths of quartz and moganite. You can learn more about it here: Heaney, Peter J. (1994). "Structure and Chemistry of the low-pressure silica polymorphs". In Heaney, P. J.; Prewitt, C. T.; Gibbs, G. V. Silica: Physical Behavior, geochemistry and materials applications. Reviews in Mineralogy. 29. pp. 1–40.(1 vote)
- Why did they call it the handle knife(1 vote)
- It's called the sacrificial Knife WITH mosaic handle, not a "handle knife" Read the title again and you'll see.(1 vote)
- The stones which were used to make the knife are still now available in the 20th century ?(2 votes)
- This knife looks like it's made of flint but what type? (I heard that blue stone flint was common.)(0 votes)