When they struck something solid while plowing over the soil in their citrus grove, a group of farmers in the Mexican Huasteca region originally thought that they’d hit a rock. Upon closer examination, however, they quickly realized that the six-foot obstacle was no ordinary stone, but instead a rare statue dating back more than five hundred years to the mid 14-or-1500s.
The statue depicts a woman wearing ceremonial robes, including an ornate headdress and a necklace with a large circular ornament. She was found lying horizontally, apparently in a peaceful setting, and her pose is relaxed, stately and calm.
The ornate clothing as well as the stately manner in which the statue was laid to rest suggest that the woman depicted in the sculpture may have been a Mesoamerican ruler or leader, probably a high-ranking politician of some sort. Her double-peaked headdress suggests that she was a woman of some high amount of influence.
The statue’s face is sculpted with an open, engaging expression, including an open mouth as though the subject were about to speak to her audience. Although her eyes are currently hollow, researchers suggest that they would have originally been inlaid with obsidian spheres or other semiprecious stones in order to give an extra level of life and personality to the statue’s visage.
The style of the statue itself is similar to other pre-Hispanic depictions of the Huastec earth or fertility goddess. However, the details of the woman’s face include some influences from local indigenous groups, leading researchers to believe that she may have been depicted as a fusion of a local leader and the more traditionally recognizable goddess.
This sculpture is the first of its kind to be found in the Huastec region. Similar statues have been found in neighboring areas, but this is a tremendous find for pre-Hispanic historians, as the area where the statue was found has not previously been considered as an archaeological site.
The sculpture subject is fairly common in many pre-Hispanic art forms. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish colonizers, women enjoyed a fair amount of prestige and political power. It was not uncommon for women in the Maya or Aztec empires to achieve high ranks in spiritual, political, or economic circles. Only after the arrival of the Europeans on the Gulf Coast of Mexico did the social standing of women begin to rapidly decline.
No matter who the woman in the sculpture may have been, most of the researchers who worked on her excavation are fairly certain that the citrus grove was not her original resting place. As mentioned previously, the Huastec region is not typically viewed as an important archaeological site. Instead, some researchers suggest that the statue may have been moved to her final position, possibly around the same time as she lost her eyes or any other decorations.
The discovery of the citrus grove ruler has revitalized archaeological interest in the citrus grove itself as well as surrounding properties. Due to the systematic overwriting of pre-Hispanic history by the Spanish rulers who were struggling to establish their own narrative, any discovery of pre-Hispanic art is a tremendous find for archaeologists and historians alike.
Every new piece of artwork helps piece together the puzzle that is Mesoamerican history prior to the arrival of the Spanish. In this sense, the sculpture of the woman found resting in the citrus grove is yet another important piece of history that may have otherwise gone unnoticed for another several centuries.
The farmers who discovered the ruler lying among their citrus trees may have originally suspected their find was nothing more than an annoying obstacle to their important work. Instead, they found a piece of history that will help to shape the narrative of history in South American for archaeologists, historians, and researchers as we move further into this century.