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Nazca (Peru)

Mythical being effigy vessel

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Object Details

Culture

Nazca (Peru)

Date

AD 0-300

Medium

Earthenware

Dimensions

8 1/16 × 5 1/2 × 4 1/2 inches (20.5 × 14 × 11.4 cm)

Credit Line

Gift of Thomas Carroll, PhD 1951

Object
Number

2006.070.398

BRIEF DESCRIPTIONAn effigy vessel is a container that is made in the shape of a person or an animal.(…)

BRIEF DESCRIPTIONAn effigy vessel is a container that is made in the shape of a person or an animal. This Nasca ceramic vessel is in the shape of a whiskered anthropomorphic mythical being holding pointed objects on its knees.WHERE WAS IT MADE?This vessel was made in the southern coastal region of what is now Peru.HOW WAS IT MADE?Nasca pottery was never made in molds (unlike Moche and Chimú wares, which were commonly mold-made). Although the true potter’s wheel was absent, Nasca vessels were often constructed on a round plate base, using coiling, drawing, and direct-shaping techniques, with the help of some hand tools. This vessel has a red-brown slip ground with the vivid red, tan, orange, and brown slip paint typical of Nasca wares. Slip, a mixture of different colored clays and minerals in water, is used to apply color to the vessel prior to firing in an earthen pit. The Nasca developed an especially large palette of colors to work with. Their vessels also show evidence of thorough burnishing, as you can see on this vessel.HOW WAS IT USED?Bottles of this type, with a strap bridge handle and narrow, tapered spout, may have been used to carry and serve liquids, since the narrow-necked bottle shape would have reduced losses from accidental spills and evaporation. Although water is vital in desert environments such as those found in many parts of the Andes, recent analyses of residues from Peruvian bottles and jars suggest that most of them were used to serve corn (maize) beer or chicha. Chicha was both an everyday beverage, made in households for family consumption, and an essential element in ritual and social interactions.WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE THIS?This mythical being is often referred to as an agricultural deity because of the crop plants in its hands, but is also known as a cat god or demon because of its whiskered feline face. More upswept whiskers may depict otter-cat deities, while side-extending whiskers such as the one on this vessel may be more typical of a monkey deity that is often depicted with trophy heads, as this one is. If you look at the arms, you will see pictures of (body painting, tattoos, textile motif, or actual) trophy heads. Trophy heads are common subjects in Nasca art, and are often painted on pottery vessels. The artistic conventions of painted trophy heads appear to have their origins in verifiable cultural practices: over 100 trophy heads are known from Nasca archaeological sites. To see a Nasca bowl decorated with trophy heads in the Johnson Museum’s collection, search for object number 92.018.014 in the keyword search box.Notice the headdress or hat with a second whiskered face. The figure also wears a waist-length, short-sleeved tunic, and collar-like necklace.Look at the multiple-point object on the figure’s left knee; this is probably manioc or yuca (Manihot eculenta), the starchy root crop from which we get tapioca; eaten boiled in soups, yuca is still a common food in Peru. Mythical beings similar to this one are frequent subjects in contemporary textiles and vessels of other shapes such as bowls and cups. To see another Nasca vessel with a similar whiskered deity in the Johnson Museum’s collection, search for object number 2006.070.399 in the keyword search box.ABOUT THE NASCA CULTURE:The Nasca style developed directly from the preceding Paracas culture on the south coast of Peru. Approximately contemporary in time with the Moche culture of the Peruvian north coast, Nasca potters used brightly colored polychrome slip painting. While the Moche favored the use of the stirrup-spout bottle form, Nasca vessels are characterized by round-bottomed, double-spout-and-bridge forms, and cups and bowls with elegantly curved sides. Nasca iconography included naturalistic forms as well as deities and stylized trophy heads. Over time, Nasca pottery became more and more stylized, with increasingly complex motifs replacing the earlier, more naturalistic plant and animal forms. A variety of supernatural beings are depicted in Nasca pottery; they often wear whiskered headgear and carry decapitated trophy heads. Although the Nasca people had a non-residential ceremonial center at the site of Cahuachi, and are famous for having created the Nasca Lines (a huge number of large-scale drawings in the otherwise barren desert, many of which share design elements with ceramic motifs), there were no truly urban Nasca cities, indicating that the culture may have been less politically complex than the Moche.

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