Humboldt Forum
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ethnologisches Museum / Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss, digitale Reproduktion: Jester Blank GbR


By mysterious means a snake and eagle have fused to form the mythical Aztec chimera “quauhcoatl”. The feathered rattlesnake with the beak of a golden eagle is extremely well preserved and so intricately worked that every feather is visible. It takes us back to Mexico’s founding myth.

In many cultures snakes and eagles represent exceptional animals. That was also the case with the Aztecs. Moreover, the two of them have united to form the mythical chimera quauhcoatl, combining elements of the golden eagle (quauhtli) and the rattlesnake (coatl). The feathers and tail rattle can still be clearly distinguished on the extremely well preserved sculpture.

Kings of the Earth and the Sky

The hieroglyphs on the neck of the stone beast, curled into an elaborate knot, stand for “precious stone”. This provides a further indication of the nobility of the eagle-serpent, which fuses the most powerful animals of the earth and the sky. Incidentally, such combinations of opposing but complementary pairs are frequently encountered in Mesoamerican cultures.

The Origin of Mexico

However, the quauhcoatl’s status as a Highlight is not merely due to its archetypical animal symbolism. It is also closely associated with Mexico’s founding myth, as the “eagle-serpent” is the pictographic name of one of four teomamaque. These were the carriers of the sacred bundle. In the fourteenth century they led the Aztec exodus from Aztlan to Tenochtitlán, which would later become their capital, today’s Mexico City. According to the legend, the Aztecs settled at the site where they observed an eagle as it landed on a prickly pear cactus growing on a stone, thereby fulfilling the prophecy of their tribal god Huitzilopochtli. To this day this national symbol can be found on Mexico’s flag.

Quauhcoatl in Berlin

The eagle-serpent was made between 1325 and 1521. It was found in Azcapotzalco in the central Mexican Highlands and came to the Ethnologisches Museum in 1862 as part of the Carl Uhde collection.

To be seen in the museums on the second floor of the Humboldt Forum.

Exhibition on Museum Island (until 29 September 2019)

Until May 2019, the first Humboldt Forum Highlights were on display in the Pergamonmuseum, Altes Museum and Neues Museum on Museum Island. The exhibtion at Pergamonmuseum and Neues Museum has been extended until the end of September 2019.

More Information about the exhibition ►

Humboldt Forum Highlights

The first 15 of these Humboldt Forum Highlights were being presented between October 2018 and May 2019 in two formats: in an exhibition as well as during conversations that will be held at various locations in Berlin. The exhibition on Museum Island has been extended until the end of September 2019.

Mehr Informationen ►