BRIEF DESCRIPTIONThis is a ceramic Jama-Coaque figure of a seated man holding a small round pot.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. Sections of the figure were painted with different colors of slip. Slip is a mixture of clay, water, and other colored minerals. 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 a few clues suggesting that this figure may represent a shaman. Notice that he is seated on a stool; this position represents high status. The pot that he holds in his hands suggests that he could be chewing coca leaves. Lime pots, or poporos, held the lime powder (calcium carbonate, often derived from burned shells) that was used to boost the stimulatory effects of coca. Hallucinogenic drugs were commonly used by religious specialists (shamans) to assist them in communing with the supernatural world.Notice the high, pointed head of the figure. Manipulation of head shapes was common throughout Mesoamerica and South America in pre-Columbian times. Human head shapes can be deformed or changed in infancy, since the skull is relatively soft. Common pre-Columbian head shapes were produced by tightly circling the baby’s head with cloths (to produce an annular or tall rounded shape), or by tying boards or other hard objects to the back of the head and/or the forehead (to produce a broad, flat shape). Differences in head shape served to mark geographic origins or group affiliation. In the Andes today, hats are used in a similar way, with each community having characteristic headgear distinct from those worn in neighboring areas.To see complete Jama-Coaque figures in the Johnson Museum’s collection, search for object numbers 2006.070.080, 2006.070.083, 2006.070.087, and 2006.070.090 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.