Chacmool: The Toltec & Maya History of this Sculpture

el Chacmool
By Dani Brown

One of the most popular and reoccurring motifs in Meso-American art is the Chacmool, or a sculpture depicting a figure seated on the ground in a reclining position with the head turned to the right in nearly a right angle, the legs drawn up to the buttocks, elbows resting on the ground, and the hands holding a plate or bowl on the stomach. Associated with the Toltec people, the first of these figures was discovered at the entrance to the Temple of the Warrior at the Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá in the late 1800s by French explorer Augustus LePlongeon.

When the Toltecs came to the Yucatán from the Valley of Mexico in about AD 1000, they made Chichén Itzá their capital, and their influence is seen through out the architecture of of this ancient city. For example, it is said that this very same Temple of the Warrior mentioned above was modeled after the Temple of Quetzalcoatl at Tula, a Toltec site in Hidalgo, Mexico.

With over a dozen Chacmool statues found at Chichén Itzá, many in prominent locations - such as in antechambers of temples or set in association with thrones or sacrificial stones - the meaning of the statue is thought to be to receive offerings or for sacrifice. There is argument, considering the known practices of the warring Toltec people, that the Chacmool served to receive the hearts of sacrificial victims.

Chacmools have been discovered in El Salvador, Guatamala, and throughout Central Mexico and the Yucatán. The Chacmool pictured here was taken at Cenote Zaci in the center of the town of Valladolid.