Chacmool (‘Chac-Mool’) – Intriguing Pre-Columbian Statue Found At Many Ancient Sites In Mesoamerica

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
July 13, 2023

A. Sutherland  – – “Chac Mool” (chacmool, or chaacmol) is one of the most famous Pre-Columbian statues that can be found throughout Mexico. Chac-Mool altars are generally found at the entrance to Toltec temples and at other sites of pre-Columbian cultures when Toltec influence was particularly strong, for example, Chichen Itza.

The great city of Chichén Itzá was the most important Mayan political, religious, and military Center in the north of Yucatán during its flourishing years, towards the end of the classic and the beginning of the Postclassic (800-1100 AD).

One such statue, for example, has been discovered in the Temple of Kukulkan (the Plumed Serpent), one of the most famous Maya pyramids – that was built at Chichén Itzá and later renamed El Castillo by the Spanish.

Archaeology confirms that twelve chacmools have been discovered at the Toltec city of Tula, known for its famous Atlantean Statues, the massive stone sculptures of warriors, the “Atlantes” that still hold a mystery: how the figures were carved and transported to the pyramid’s top.

Usually, the sculpture is approximately human-sized and decorated with a headdress, bracelets, ear flares, anklets and depicts a resting man with his head directed either to the left or the right but always facing 90 degrees from the front.  The statue’s posture appears to be somewhat unique.

Curiously, this individual is always looking out away from the associated temple, supporting itself on its elbows and, at the same time, keeping a bowl (or disk) placed upon its torso. The bowl probably served as a holder for sacrificial blood and burnt offerings. It may also have had a symbolic meaning associated with the circular cenotes, which are deep sinkholes or holes particularly characteristic of Central America and Mexico, and used during religious ceremonies (sacrifices) during the Mayan Empire.

What Is The Original Name Of The Statue?

As far as we know, Augustus Le Plongeon gave the name “chac mool” to a mysterious statue that he discovered during an archaeological expedition to Chichen Itza in 1873. However, the first published account of this kind of statue first appeared in 1832.

Le Plongeon, a British-American archeologist and photographer, studied the pre-Columbian ruins of America and focused his research on the Maya civilization living on the northern Yucatán Peninsula. He discovered several important sites of Mayan culture and wrote several books, which were later criticized by the scientific community as based on the author’s flawed ideas.

Chuck-Mool. Statue at the top of the Temple of Warriors of the Chichen Itza complex. Credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen,  One for the Road.  CC BY-SA 3.0               

According to Le Plongeon, the statue was supposed to represent an ancient Mayan king named “Chac-Mool” (“red Jaguar”), but the researcher was wrong, and historians have rejected his theory. According to the Maya, “chac-mool” means “the paw swift like thunder” (or “Thunderous Paw”), but the simple name “chac mool” has been widely adopted by researchers.

It’s important that the statue’s name, “Chac Mool” should not be confused with Chac, one of the foremost gods of Mayan mythology, who originally was related to rain, storm, and thunder. Aztec chacmools were associated with Tlaloc, the Mesoamerican rain god and the important deity in the Aztec pantheon.

Unknown Real Name, Identity And Function Of This Pre-Columbian Statue

The ancient name for these types of sculptures is unknown. It is also uncertain what or who the statue represents or what its purpose might have been.

What was the statue’s original function? The Chaacmol does not appear to be of Maya origin. What mysterious ancient culture does he represent? Who were the male figures representing chacmools?

For more than two centuries, “chacmool” has remained the subject of scientific speculations, and some possible explanations for the existence of this curious pre-Columbian figure are widely accepted.

As chackmools have never been discovered inside the temple’s sanctuary or shrine, it seems they have not been a subject of worship. Instead, they have rather been used by priests during their religious ceremonies. The statue could be a cuauhxicalli (“eagle gourd bowl”) to receive blood and human hearts during sacrificial ceremonies, particularly popular among the Aztecs. The Aztecsused this bowl instead of the usual disc-altar. A chacmool from Tlaxcala. Mexico, for example, has a bloodied heart sculpted on the underside, supporting this particular interpretation.

It was also proposed that the bowl (or similar vessel) was used for collecting donations and gifts such as tobacco, turkeys, feathers, incense, tortillas, and pulque.

Or was Chac Mool perhaps a sacrificial stone over which victims were stretched so their hearts could be cut from their chests? In other words, “chacmools” were most probably related to the bloody ceremonies of the ancient Maya people.

Enigmatic monumental sculptures of “chacmool” were still in use when the Spanish contact in Central Mexico in the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, in the region of Chichen Itza) far as in El Salvador.  In other Maya areas, researchers found fewer of these statues.