Pre-Columbian, Colombia, between Magdalena & Cesar, Chimila, ca. 1000 to 1500 CE. A hand-built terracotta burial urn with an egg-shaped body characteristic of the Chimila style. The lid/head presents an abstract visage with slit eyes and mouth, applied ears and nose, and pierced marks arranged in linear patterns perhaps representing tattoos. Arms fashioned from long fillets of clay detailed with knobby elbows and five-fingered hands, as well as a five-stranded necklace of long, incised coils, adorn the body. Size: 10.5" W x 15.75"H (26.7 cm x 40 cm)
In the valley of the River Magdalena, ancient rituals related to the preparation of the body of the deceased for its journey to the afterlife involved the practice of secondary burials in urns like this example. According to the curatorial department of the Museo del Oro Banco de la Republica, "There are two different stages in the secondary burial funerary custom: first of all a primary burial takes place, where the corpse is buried for a certain period of time established in the ritual, and then after this, it is exhumed for burial once more in an urn, possibly amidst a great collective ceremony. Urns have been found in well tombs with side chamber, with certain local and regional variations. The chambers contain between three and seventy urns, each holding charred bone remains, large fractured bones, and fragments of skull. Each is accompanied by pots, bowls and goblets, most of which were made exclusively for the dead person, for they show no signs of having been used. Spindle whorls, rollers and axes have also been found."
Scholars argue that the custom of creating burial urns is related to the association of bones with the afterlife. According to Armand Labbe's "Colombia Before Columbus," "There is a widespread belief among many Indians of both Middle and South America that bones are a form of seed, from which new life will spring. Recall the Mexican allegory of the personification of the dual lifeforce, Quetzalcoatl, descending to the underworld to retrieve the bones of mankind to resurrect them to a new life." Labbe continues, "Within the Colombian context, the act of placing bones in cylindrical, phalliform urns, and placing these in the womb-like shaft-and-chamber tomb within the Earth Mother, seems to be an enactment of such beliefs." (Labbe, "Colombia Before Columbus: The People, Culture, and Ceramic Art of Prehispanic Colombia." (1986)
Provenance: Ex-private Smith collection, Atlanta, GA
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