Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca head

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The Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca Head is an artifact that is shrouded in mystery. With poor documentation on the part of Jose Payon and an uncertainty in the date, the terracotta head is a out of place artifact with many different explanations for it. Some of the explanations go from fairly normal, like a misplacing of the artifact during excavation, to the more farfetched like pre-Colombian contact. Not only is the exact date and the context of the head unknown, it is also unknown the exact size as there is only two photographs taken of the artifact and if it was part of a full bodied figurine.


The Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca Head is a head figure that is believed to be part of a larger figurine. The head is argued to either be a Viking artifact, or evidence for Pre-Colombian contact, or an out of context post-Colombian grave good, because of it's unique and Roman sculpture look. During the excavation data and photographs were not taken in a manner that made it possible to tell what the size of the terracotta head is. It is speculated that it's around the size of a baseball.[1] The head was put in to storage where it was forgotten until about 1990 when student Romeo Hristov found in in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. When Hristov found the artifact, it was misclassified as a Colonial artifact.[2]


A figurine of a head was discovered in the pre-Hispanic town of Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca in 1933 by Jose Garcia Payon during an excavation of a burial offering that looked very similar to the Roman statues. Although the statue was found in 1933 Payon did not make the announcement until the 1960's.[3] This figurine is believed to be either pre-Colombian or just post-Colombian contact. The pyramid the discovery was made in had three intact floors and is located about 40 miles north-west of Mexico City.[4] Although the burial site is dated to be between 1476-1510 BCE, Ernst Boehringer has argued that the head is a Roman sculpture dated to be from 2-3 century A.D.[5]

the head] is without any doubt Roman, and the lab analysis has confirmed that it is ancient. The stylistic examination tells us more precisely that it is a Roman work from around the II century A.D., and the hairstyle and the shape of the beard present the typical traits of the Severian emperors period [193-235 A.D.], exactly in the ‘fashion’ of the epoch." (Andreae cited in Domenici 2000: 29).



The figurine was found in a grave along with objects that were gold, copper, turquoise, rock crystal,Jet a stone similar to coal,[6], bone, shells, and pottery. The burial was dated to around 1476-1510 BCE. The presence of the gold in the grave when it was excavated and discovered was fairly good evidence that the grave was in probably not altered before discovery. The civilization that was at the site were living in the Toluca Valley during the middle to late classic era, based on the speculations made about the pyramids and other structures in the settlement. People have been settled in the area since around 1500 BCE[1]


Was an Aztec city translating to prairie house or house on the prairie. The area has had people from 3000 BC[7] The area was once home to tens of thousands of people but the archaeological sites are small and limited.


Pre-Colombian Contact

Pre-Colombian contact follows the idea that some out of place artifacts are the result of explorers, most commonly Vikings visited the Americas years before Columbus had arrived. The figurine is often used to argue Pre-Colombian Contact, because the figurine has the appearance of a Roman statue found in Mesoamerica around the same time period. They use this argument, because the terracotta head is considered to be an out of context artifact and the only way it could have gotten to Mesoamerica during that time frame, would be if the Romans, or another civilization, had arrived first.

The Drift Voyage Theory

The idea behind the drift voyage theories is that it is possible that while traveling on the ocean the possibility for a shipwreck is high, and it is possible that artifacts and survivors of the shipwreck could have survived the wreck and drifted ashore. This idea is another that is commonly used to explain the context of the Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca head.[8] It is possible for a pre-Colombian ship to have wrecked off the shore off the coast of Mexico and this figurine could have been found and kept as a relic by the people of Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca and then in turn put into the burial as a grave good.

Viking Souvenir

It is also argued that the figurine is a Viking souvenir. However there is no valid archaeological evidence for the Medieval Norse having had contact with the North American Indians, let alone Mesoamerican peoples.[5] Some possibly reliable artifacts have been reported to be from Mesoamerica, but as of now none of them have been accepted as hard evidence for Pre-Colombian contact in 1492.[5]

Possible Hoax

There are also arguments that the original excavator planted the head to the Mesoamerican site. It is argued that the head was planted due to the thermoluminescence dates that were placed on the head. The head is dated to be between 875 B.C and 1265 A.D.[9], because the terracotta head is dated to significantly older than the site, it is possible that the artifact was imported at a later date and implanted at the site.[9] According to research that Dr. Smith a professor of anthropology at Arizona State University performed many Mexican archaeologists believe that the terracotta head is in fact a hoax. [3]

Other Theories

Dr. Michael Smith has a few other theories as to why the terracotta head has ended up in Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca[3]

  1. This is a Roman sculpture, but it was introduced by the Spanish in early colonizing
  2. It was introduced by mistake to the site, as extensive notes were not taken
    1. Since Payon did not take great notes when he was excavating the site it is possible that the head was introduced to the rest of the collection by mistake, the collection was also being held at a museum that had artifacts from all over the world.
  3. It is possible a post Roman, Christian figurine introduced in early colonizing
    1. There is no actual evidence that the figurine is Roman in nature, besides what anthropologists, and archaeologists have said.
  4. There is a small chance that it was Roman and it had made it's way to Mexico
  5. There could be problems with the thermoluminescent dating methods and dates that they acquired
    1. thermoluminescent dating is a method of dating archaeological artifacts like pottery, by measuring the radiation given off of the ceramics during heating.[10]


  1. 1.0 1.1 “Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca Head.” Thinking Sideways Podcast, 25 Feb. 2017, thinkingsidewayspodcast.com/tecaxic-calixtlahuaca-head/.
  2. McCulloch, J. “The Calixtlahuaca Head.” Roman Head from Mexico, 12 June 2004, econ.ohio-state.edu/jhm/arch/calix.htm.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Smith, Michael. “The ‘Roman Figurine’ Supposedly Excavated at Calixtlahuaca.” Calixtlahuaca Diffusion Page, www.public.asu.edu/~mesmith9/tval/RomanFigurine.html.
  4. Klimczak, Natalia. “The Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca Head: Evidence for Ancient Roman Transatlantic Voyages, a Viking Souvenir, or a Hoax?” Ancient Origins, Ancient Origins, www.ancient-origins.net/artifacts-other-artifacts/tecaxic-calixtlahuaca-head-evidence-ancient-roman-transatlantic-voyages-021076.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Hristov, Romeo, and Santiago Genoves. “The Roman Head From Tecaxic Calixtlahuaca, Mexico: A Review of the Evidece.” THE ROMAN HEAD FROM TECAXIC-CALIXTLAHUACA, MEXICO: A REVIEW OF THE EVIDENCE, www.unm.edu/~rhristov/calixtlahuaca/Romanhead.htm.
  6. “Jet Lignite.” Jet Lignite | Gem5.Com, gem5.com/stone/65/jet-lignite/.
  7. https://uncoveredhistory.com/mexico/calixtlahuaca/
  8. Callaghan, Richard. “Drift Voyages across the Mid-Atlantic.” ProQuest, Antiquity Cambridge University Press, June 2015, search-proquest-com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/docview/1761147641?pq-origsite.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Hristov, Romeo H., and Santiago Genovés T. “REPLY TO PETER SCHAAF AND GÜNTHER A. WAGNER'S.” Cambridge Core, Cambridge University Press, 27 July 2001, www.cambridge.org/core/journals/ancient-mesoamerica/article/reply-to-peter-schaaf-and-gunther-a-wagners-comments-on-mesoamerican-evidence-of-pre-columbian-transoceanic-contacts/84EB7394462A25DB683331BB8DE6B39D#.
  10. Thermoluminescence Dating.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/thermoluminescence-dating.