Pre-Columbian, West Mexico, Colima, ca. 300 BCE to 300 CE. A remarkably preserved and fantastically rendered anthropomorphic vessel, a shaman with a dramatically hunched back caught in the act of transformation. He has a spout atop his head. He stands, leaning forward, his hands loose at sides, wearing an incised loincloth and relief skullcap. The raised nodes on his shoulders represent scarification or tattoos, perhaps denoting his clan or social status. On his chest, he wears the dramatic double horned necklace of a shaman. Size: 7" W x 12.5" H (17.8 cm x 31.8 cm)
Hunchback and dwarf individuals are very common in Colima sculpture - indeed, they heavily outnumber portrayals of women (and some have theorized that this relates to their relatively high social status in the society). Some scholars attribute the hunched back in West Mexican shaft tomb culture to a particular form of tuberculosis; the protruding shoulders of this example may be part of the figure's deformity or meant to show further transformation.
Colima, located on Mexico's southwestern coast, was during this time part of the shaft tomb culture, along with neighbors to the north in Jalisco and Nayarit. In this culture, the dead were buried down shafts - 3 to 20 meters deep - that were dug vertically or near vertically through the volcanic tuff that makes up the geology of the region. The base of the shaft would open into one or more horizontal chambers with a low ceiling. These shafts were almost always dug beneath a dwelling, probably a family home, and seem to have been used as family mausoleums, housing the remains of many related individuals. This is a figure made to be placed inside those mausoleums, perhaps to mediate between the worlds of the living and the dead.
Provenance: private New York, New York, USA collection; ex-The Lands Beyond Gallery; private collection before that
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