Cosijo

/ Work of the Week

Urn Representing Cosijo, the God of Rain. Zapotec Culture, Mexico, about AD 450. Fired clay. 21 × 12 × 11 inches. Museum purchase, 1965.33.

Birmingham has enjoyed beautiful sunny weather over the last few days, but rain is on its way! The stormy forecast inspired our next Work of the Week.

This urn represents Cosijo (pr. coh-see-oh), considered one of the most important gods by the ancient Zapotec people because of his association with rainfall. The Zapotecs were farmers and relied on the timely arrival of rain for their survival. The word cosijo means “lightning” in the Zapotec language, and they invoked this deity as the “great spirit within the lightning.”

Representations of Cosijo combine elements of the earth-jaguar and sky-serpent, both linked to fertility. His eyebrows depict the heavens, the stepped, two-part forms resembling eyelids represent clouds, and his forked serpent’s tongue represents a bolt of lightning. Cosijo’s ears are adorned with ear spools.

The Zapotec people lived in the southern highlands of Central America, part of the Oaxaca region, from the PreClassical period to the Classic period. The society was built around central towns or villages, with access to an agricultural base. Oaxaca was home to several pre-Colombian civilizations, the Zapotec and the Mixtec, and was inhabited by the Aztecs until the 15th century. Zapotecs placed urns like this one inside tombs.

Want to see a 360° view of this Cosijo urn, listen to an audio description, or learn more about the time period in which it was made? Visit our smARTguide! You can give Cosijo a bit of color with this printable PDF coloring page.