Wooden slit-drum (teponaztli)


British Museum

British Museum

This is an example of a slit-drum called a teponaztli. It was hollowed out and carved from a piece of hardwood. Two tongues were slotted at the top, carefully carved to achieve different tones when struck with drumsticks. Mixtec teponaztli were generally decorated with scenes carved in relief, while Mexica examples were sometimes carved to represent human or animal figures. The scene on this teponaztli represents a battle between two cities. It is carved with figures and calendrical inscriptions in the same style used in the Mixtec codices (screenfold books). For example, the name of the warrior on the left of the main scene is 'Five Rain', represented by five circles and the symbol for rain. This glyph also indicates a date, but the Mixtec used the day of birth as a personal name.

The Mixtec, whose heartland was in present-day Oaxaca, were expert artisans and created magnificent objects in wood, bone, turquoise mosaic, jade and metal. Some of these objects were paid in tribute to the Mexica empire. There was also a district of Mixtec artisans in the Mexica capital, Tenochtitlan.

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  • Title: Wooden slit-drum (teponaztli)
  • Date Created: 1200/1521
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 37.20cm; Height: 12.00cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: carved
  • Registration number: Am1856,0422.142
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Mexico
  • Period/culture: Mixtec
  • Other information: Cultural rights may apply.
  • Material: wood
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Donated by Webster. Collected by Ashburnham, Charles