Pre-Columbian Art of Mexico, Art of the Gulf of Mexico-The Classic Veracruz Culture

  1. “Yugos”, “Hachas” and “Palmas”-The Classic Veracruz Culture

Apart from its important production of clay figurines, the region of Veracruz was the cradle of a strange type of sculpture whose most frequent and defining types were related to ballgame gear and that are known under the names of “yugos”, “hachas” and “palmas”, because of their appearance (“Yugo” = Yoke, “Hacha” = Axe, “Palmas” = Palm). Its original function is still somewhat mysterious, although it is related perhaps with funeral rites and, as said, with some regional aspects of the ballgame. But due to its characteristic forms, this interesting sculptural complex occupies a very special place within the artistic panorama of the old Mexico. The Classic Veracruz culture was seemingly obsessed with the ballgame. The ballgame rituals appear throughout Classic Veracruz monumental art.

Examples of ancient Mesoamerican “Yugos” of the Veracruz Classic Culture. Top: A “Yugo” in the form of a frog carved in a highly polished greenstone. Bottom left: another Frog “Yugo”. Bottom right: Zoomorphic “Yugo” from the Late Classic period, ca. 600 – 900 AD., carved in green stone.
Mesoamerican ancient “Hachas” from the Classic Veracruz style. Left: Hacha of a Human Head with Rind Helmet, ca. 600-900 AD. (Late Classic), in gray volcanic stone (Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland). Center: Canine or Bat’s Head Hacha with anthropomorphic features, ca. 550-950 AD. in jade (The Vilcek Foundation). Right: Hacha with Serpent or Avian Headdress, Late Classic period, ca. 600-900 AD. (The Jan T. and Marica Vilcek Collection).

Finely carved and polished in very hard stone, the “yugos” (or U-shaped stones, worn about the waist of a ballplayer) usually represent vigorous stylizations of animals like jaguars and toads, whose essential features are masterfully adapted to the peculiar contours of the stone. Archaeologists generally suppose that the stone Yugos are ritual versions of leather, cotton, and/or wood yugos. The “hachas” and “palmas” would have fit on top of the yokes. The “hachas” -sometimes known as “flat faces”- show a greater diversity of artistic themes although with a predominance of human faces in profile. And the “Palmas” which, as its name suggests, are wider at the top and thinner towards the base, display a rich and varied decoration that often includes complex designs with “interlaced volutes” which, as mentioned in a previous essay, constitute the most characteristic ornamental motif of the art of this region. Towards the end of the Classical period, as important political and cultural changes occurred in Mesoamerica, some of these artistic elements were widely disseminated -such as the “Yugos”, “Hachas” and the motif of “interlaced volutes”- alongside the migratory waves that, passing through the area of the Gulf of Mexico, arrived up to distant places of Central America crossing certain regions of the Maya area.

An elegant stone Hacha in the form of a pelican head, Late Classic Period, ca. 550-950 AD.
Mesoamerican ancient “Palmas” from the Classic Veracruz culture. Left: Palma representing an eagle eating a serpent, Classic period, ca. 600-900 AD. Center left: Palma from the Classic Period, ca. 900-1100 AD. (Cleveland Museum of Art). Center right: Palma, ca. 900-1100 (Cleveland Museum of Art). Right: Palma with a Waterbird, 300–1200 AD. in basalt, (The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston).