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Puruha (Ecuador)

Anthropomorphic face jar

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Object Details

Culture

Puruha (Ecuador)

Date

AD 800-1250

Medium

Earthenware

Dimensions

7 7/8 × 6 1/2 × 4 5/16 inches (20 × 16.5 × 11 cm)

Credit Line

Gift of Thomas Carroll, PhD 1951

Object
Number

2006.070.165

WHERE WAS IT MADE?This face jar was made in the central highlands of what is now Ecuador, somewhere (…)

WHERE WAS IT MADE?This face jar was made in the central highlands of what is now Ecuador, somewhere within the modern provinces of Chimborazo, Bolívar, and Tungurahua.HOW WAS IT MADE?This jar was hand-built using the coil method. In this method, a base is made by shaping clay into a flat disc. Then hand formed coils of clay, like ropes, are successively added to one another, building up the walls of the bowl. A tool such as a wooden paddle is used to smooth the sides both inside and out, leaving no trace of the coils. The decoration on the jar was done with a negative resist-painting technique. The designs you see are actually formed by the absence of decoration, rather than being a positive design as is usual with painted decoration. After a vessel is fired, a waxy, removable substance is painted on where the artist desires his pattern. The vessel is then smeared with a smudgy black organic paint, and the area with the resist is removed, leaving a lighter design showing through the darker background. Resist-painted wares often have faded (or “fugitive”) designs since the dark background color is not as durable as fired slip paints.HOW WAS IT USED?This was likely used as a serving vessel for food or drink. While we may be able to make educated guesses about what was served, except for contact-period ceramics and for some grave goods, it is very difficult to determine who used any given piece of pottery, and under what circumstances. Were some vessels reserved for special guests, or for use by high-status elders? Were they used during special religious ceremonies or rituals? Was their use avoided by certain classes of people, such as children and/or menstruating women? As we venture farther back into the past, answering such questions becomes increasingly difficult. Although it is tempting to draw on information from modern traditional societies and from contact-period chronicles, inferences drawn from such sources must be used with care, especially when used to interpret objects distant in both space and time.WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE THIS?Notice the black resist paint markings on the face; they do not correspond to naturalistic facial forms, but may mimic facial paint or tattoos. Also notice the three conical projections under the mouth—these represent piercings called labrets. Jewelry is depicted on many pre-Columbian figures. As in modern societies, jewelry and clothing were used in the past to convey information about a person’s social standing. The elaborate nature of much of the jewelry depicted in pre-Colombian artifacts may reflect the high rank of the people portrayed in these works of art.ABOUT THE PURUHÁ CULTURE:Puruhá remains are found in the central highlands of Ecuador. This scenic region, once occupied by the Puruhá, is one of marked geographic contrasts, encompassing a wide variety of altitudinal zones, including rugged snow-capped peaks. There are three pottery traditions within Puruhá: San Sebastián, Elén Pata, and Huavalac, all of which were united by a common language and ethnicity. Unfortunately, the archaeology of the area is poorly known, and the antecedents of this culture are not well understood. Puruhá vessel types are characterized by ovoid, head-shaped jars with applied features and literal “jug-handle ears.” The Elén-Pata phase represents the highest level of cultural development and maximum splendor in Puruhá ceramics, which typically consist of burnished redwares with black-on-red negative resist decoration.

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