Primary Source

Aztec Skull Earring, 16th Century

Gold earring featuring a skull with three dangles below it.


Featured in this image is a pair of Skull Earring created by the Aztec. They were believed to have been created around the time of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire beginning in the early 16th century. Images of cultural items created in the empire like this can both enhance narratives written in the same time periods such as the many 16th century narratives of the Spanish Conquistadors for current day readers and provide additional and sometimes contradictory perspectives about that time. For example, many of these narratives offer a glimpse at what the empire was like on the eve of conquest and images of these materials brings their descriptions to life. It might also be possible to understand more about the civilization from their Aztec perspectives using material culture. Material such as these earrings could have meant something different to the Spanish invaders. It could have been seen as a sign of wealth and a reason to invade the territory. However, for the Aztec the item could had very different cultural values. What is the value of the objects in that society and the cultural significance of some of the imagery used? What type of resource were available in the empire and how did the use them? Another question to consider might be about the divisions of labor in the society. There are many things to learn from material culture. They can provide insights when very few or no written records of other perspectives exist or there are no means to translate them. 

This source is a part of the Analyzing Travel Records methods module.


Precolumbian Portfolio: An Archive of Photographs Created by Justin Kerr*Gold*&date_added=&image=3024&display=8

How to Cite This Source

"Aztec Skull Earring, 16th Century ," in World History Commons, [accessed December 6, 2023]