Pre-Columbian, West Mexico, Nayarit, ca. 300 BCE to 300 CE. An interesting tomb figure, hand-sculpted using dense pottery, showing a seated man, seemingly nude and with an erect phallus. He is crouched forward, his elbows resting on his drawn-up knees, his hands pressed to his head. His face is strange, perhaps meant to convey that the figure is singing or speaking with authority - his lips extend outward as if he is forming his mouth into an "O." His eyes are thin, deeply-incised slits and his nose is bulbous. His body has been decorated with narrow red stripes of color, maybe representing tattoos. Size: 5.5" W x 8.55" H (14 cm x 21.7 cm)
West Mexican shaft tomb figures like this one derive their names from the central architectural feature that we know of from this culture. These people would build generally rectangular vertical shafts down from the ground level down to narrow horizontal tunnels that led to one or more vaulted or rounded burial chambers. The geomorphology in the area means that these chambers are dug out of tepetate, a type of volcanic tuff material, which give the chambers a rough-edged look. Although the dimensions of the chambers vary considerably - some only large enough to hold a single burial and its offerings, others seem designed to hold entire lineages - the placement of burial goods like this hollow figure was very similar. Grouped with other hollow figures, and alongside clay bowls, and boxes, they were positioned around the body (or bodies), near the skull. Unfortunately, we lack the information we would need to understand what these figures were made for - do they represent everyday people, even individuals? Are they religious? Were they created to mediate between the living and the dead? Whatever their purpose, today they are beautiful artwork and reminders of the mysterious past.
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection
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