The Joy of Museums

Finding Beauty & Meaning in Museums

Greenstone Mask, Central America

Penn Museum - Joy of Museums - Mark Greenstone

This Greenstone Mask, is made of dark green soft stone with natural white coloured large spot represent eyes. Originating from Central America it is thought to belong to the Toltec culture. The name Toltec has many meanings including an “urbanite” or a “cultured” person.

Stone masks, life size or smaller were used in burials to cover the face of the dead. Perforations allowed the masks to be attached to the shrouds. The natural white spots representing the eyes would have made this a unique and valuable mask.

The Toltec culture is a Mesoamerican culture that dominated a state centered in Tula, Mexico during 900–1168 AD. The Toltecs continuing the Mesoamerican heritage left by the earlier Olmec, Teotihuacano and Maya. The Toltecs built an impressive capital at Tollan and pass on their heritage to later civilizations such as the Aztecs.

Mesoamerican Historical Sites

Mesoamerican Historical Sites, showing Tula in top left.

The later Aztec culture saw the Toltecs as their intellectual and cultural predecessors and described Toltec culture as the ideal example of civilization. The Aztec oral and pictographic tradition described the history of the Toltec Empire as part of their lore.

Other historical objects of the Penn Museum include:

Essential Facts:

  • Title:                  Greenstone Mask
  • Date:                  0 – 1,000 AD
  • Culture:            Toltec (uncertain)
  • Provenience:   Mexico (Central America)
  • Culture Area:  Central America
  • Materials:        Greenstone
  • Museum:         Penn Museum

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“The only wealth which you will keep forever is the wealth you have given away”.      Marcus Aurelius

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Photo Credit: By GordonMakryllos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) Eustache Le Sueur [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By P Miles [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons