This mosaic is believed to represent the god Tezcatlipoca, or “Smoking Mirror,” one of four powerful creator deities, who were amongst the most important gods in the Mexica pantheon. Tezcatlipoca is often depicted with obsidian mirrors at the head and is conventionally cast as an adversary to Quetzalcoatl. The name “Smoking Mirror” derives from the Nahuatl (Mexica) word tezapoctli, meaning “shining smoke” and representations of Tezcatlipoca are typically characterised by distinctive black stripes on the face and a smoking mirror generally displayed in his headdress, at his temple or in place of a torn-off foot.
The base for the mosaic is a human skull. The skull is cut away at the back and lined with deer skin on which the movable jaw is hinged. Long deerskin straps would have allowed the skull to be worn as part of priestly regalia. Skull ornaments like this are depicted in the Mixtec Zouche-Nuttal Codex.