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The Cydonia Institute                                                             Vol.2  No.1 
Two-Faced
by George J. Haas
January 1999

      

     The following set of artifacts reveals just a portion of a vast cache of split-faced sculptures that were produced throughout the cultures of Mesoamerica. The first example is a fragmented head of a Zapotec child that was associated with Pitao Bezelao, the god of death (Figure 1). This split face is classified as a funerary head chronicling the eternal process of human destiny from the vitality of youth to the disintegration of death in one startling image.1 When the image is split and each side mirrored, the left side features a sullen-faced child wearing a frown. The right side has a skull-like face displaying a distinct grin.


Figure 1
Zapotec funerary head (fragment)

a. Life and death split-faced mask

b. Life (youth) - left side mirrored

c. Death - right side mirrored

Drawings by George J. Haas
(Image source: National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City)


     A second example of the Mesoamerican perception of duality is found in a striking pottery mask from a grave at Tlatilco, Mexico (Figure 2). One half of this bifurcated mask is a human face with a protruding tongue. The companion side features the halved skull of a feline, possibly a jaguar. The feline skull has a prominent set of teeth and displays a “knob” feature on the side of the head that looks like the remnants of an ear.


Figure 2
Human and jaguar skull mask

a. Human face with jaguar skull

b. Human face - left side mirrored

c. Jaguar skull - right side mirrored

Drawings by George J. Haas
(Image source: The Flayed God: The Mythology of Mesoamerica by Markman)


     This third example is another pre-Columbian two-faced mask. This bifurcated mask depicts the halved portions of a human and jaguar visage. Hopefully, now that you have become familiar with this split-faced technique, these two separate facial features are so obvious that there is no need to mirror or duplicate2 the two faces (Figure 3). 


Figure 3
Jaguar and Human Mask
Note the jaguar face on the left and the human face on the right

Drawing by George J. Haas
(Image source: The International Museum of the Ceramics, Faenza, Italy)


     On the left, we find a jaguar face with a broad muzzle and an ear. Notice the protruding tongue and what appear to be human teeth.  The human face on the right side has a broad nose, an almond-shaped eye, an upper row of filed jagged teeth (a common practice among the Maya), and wears a small ear spool. The two half faces are frontal views that are split right down the middle.
 
 
Footnote
 
1.  Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti and Licia Ragghianti Collobi, Great Museums of the World: National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (New York: Newsweek Inc. and Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1970), 85. The Maya and Aztec produced a variety of bifurcated sculptures and masks depicting similar life and death motifs.
 
2. The technique of mirroring or duplicating half images of figurative and graphic forms is an acceptable research tool utilized among the archaeology community. Unfortunately any critics dismiss this technique and are unaware of the long tradition of composite art produced in Pre-Columbian cultures and have prematurely excluded the half, bifurcated and polymorphic model from their criteria for establishing artificiality.


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