Mexico, Oaxaca, 1000–400 BC
American Museum of Natural History, New York (30/7552)
First published in 1890, this axe has features that were thought to combine those of a human infant and a jaguar, or a “were-jaguar” being. These traits include almond-shaped eyes, small nostrils, prominent canine teeth, a large, flaring upper lip, and sometimes a central forehead cleft and a feature called “flame eyebrows.” The were-jaguar concept dominated Olmec studies during much of the twentieth century. The creature is now recognized as a composite supernatural being whose physical features are drawn from multiple sources in the natural world. In ancient times, portions of jade were removed from the back of the axe.
Photo courtesy of the Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History