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Jama-Coaque (Ecuador)

Seated figure

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Object Details

Culture

Jama-Coaque (Ecuador)

Date

300 BC-400 AD

Medium

Earthenware

Dimensions

12 × 5 1/8 × 5 1/2 inches (30.5 × 13 × 14 cm)

Credit Line

Gift of Thomas Carroll, PhD 1951

Object
Number

2006.070.087

BRIEF DESCRIPTIONThis is a ceramic Jama-Coaque figure of a seated shaman.WHERE WAS IT MADE?This figu(…)

BRIEF DESCRIPTIONThis is a ceramic Jama-Coaque figure of a seated shaman.WHERE WAS IT MADE?This figure was made in the coastal region of what is now Ecuador.HOW WAS IT MADE?A variety of clay hand-building techniques were used to make this figure. Some sections could have been built with coils (ropes of rolled clay layered one on top of the other), other sections were likely made with flat slabs of clay. Facial features and other details were modeled by hand, perhaps with the assistance of some basic tools, such as a stylus for the incised lines on the face, feet, and body adornments. To harden the clay, the figure was fired in an earthen pit.HOW WAS IT USED?The original function of archaeological figurines found in museum collections is uncertain. Today archeologists carefully record information about the associations between artifacts and the circumstances of their burial as they are unearthed, and we can draw many conclusions about object function. However, very few of the archaeological objects found in museums today were excavated in a careful, scientific manner, so we have fewer clues about their past associations and function.A wide range of people and objects are shown in pre-Columbian pottery. From burials, we know that the variety of head shapes, jewelry, and clothing styles reflect the actual appearance of these prehistoric people. Because figurines represent many life stages and ordinary human activities, they probably served to exemplify the usual norms of behavior, to serve as guidelines or rules to help socialize people and integrate them into society. Although obviously decorative, figurines could also have been used to make offerings to supernatural powers, to serve as good luck charms, or to accompany the dead as grave goods.WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE THIS?There are many clues that this figure represents a shaman. Notice the drum-shaped stool he is sitting on. Although it is not rendered with much detail, it is the mark of a shaman in the tropical forest cultures in historic times. Like other shamans, he may be ingesting a hallucinogenic substance from the plate using the crescent shaped object, with the birds that you see on his headdress indicating that he will be taking a spiritual flight. Birds are often symbolic of the spirit flight taken by a shaman or religious specialist during a vision quest. Often aided by hallucinogenic drugs, a shaman’s spirit would fly out from his body in search of knowledge and spiritual fulfillment. Notice the other adornments on the figure. He wears a large lip plug (labret), a broad crescent necklace, beaded ankle rings, and a loincloth, which indicates male gender. The long ear ornaments are believed to simulate hammered gold and are similar to designs on cylinder seals. To see a Jama-Coaque seal in the Johnson Museum’s collection, search for object number 2006.070.326 in the keyword search box. To see complete Jama-Coaque figures in the Johnson Museum’s collection, search for object numbers 2006.070.080, 2006.070.083, 2006.070.090, and 2006.070.093 in the keyword search box.ABOUT THE JAMA-COAQUE CULTURE:The Jama-Coaque culture flourished in the semi-arid area between the Cabo de San Franscisco and the Bahía de Caráquez on the coast of Ecuador. The Jama-Coaque people lived in a series of small urban centers, and were organized into one or more chiefdoms, probably led by religious leaders. Their economy relied on a combination of farming and fishing. The artistic achievements of these people were of very high order; their ceramic human figures are expressive and individualized, with people often portrayed in naturalistic positions, engaged in actions and movement whose charm still resonates across the centuries. The Jama-Coaque culture shares many characteristics with the neighboring Regional Development Period (500 BC-AD 500) cultures of Bahía, Guangala, and La Tolita, all of which are local successors to the earlier, more widespread Chorrera cultural horizon.

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