This image is from the great urban center of Teotihuacan in Central Mexico. In Mesoweb's logo, the symbol has been pressed into service to represent the cultures of Mesoamerica other than the Olmec, Maya and Aztec. But Teotihuacan was an essential civilization in its own right, with direct influence even on the distant Maya. And its monumental ruins inspired awe in the Aztec long after the city's fall.
NOTES, SOURCES & LINKS:
The ASU Teotihuacan Research Laboratory maintains a comprehensive website at teo.asu.edu.
Archaeology Magazine Online offers an article on the discoveries of Saburo Sugiyama and his team, with background information and photographs.
Mesoweb's logo image derives from one of the sculptures projecting from the facade of the Temple of Quetzalcoatl at Teotihuacan. Frequently misidentified as Tlaloc, the Aztec name for the goggle-eyed deity of rain and lightning, it may actually depict a serpent-like being in the form of a mosaic headdress.
Because this symbol is often associated with weapons and warriors, Mary Miller and Karl Taube identify it as the War Serpent in The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya.
Esther Pasztory, in Teotihuacan: An Experiment in Living, finds no explanation of the symbol entirely satisfactory. "Starting out as Tlaloc, the head has since become identified with wealth, with royal power, with the beginning of time, and with warfare demonstrating, like inkblot tests, the possibilities of interpretations in multivalent systems."
The symbol was first identified as Tlaloc because of the rings on its head (omitted from the Mesoweb logo but visible in the original). However, Tlaloc's rings are "goggles" around the eyes, while these are separate elements on the forehead.
In opposition to the tendency of Spanish speakers to accent the final syllable, Teotihuacan is properly pronounced with the accent on the second-to-last syllable: tay-oh-tee-WA-cahn.
For the impact of Teotihuacan on the Maya, see an excerpt from "The Arrival of Strangers" by David Stuart (Stuart 2000b), republished here from the newsletter of the Precolumbian Art Research Institute.