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Chimu (Peru)

Double-Chambered Whistling Seal Pot

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Object Details

Culture

Chimu (Peru)
Late Intermediate Period

Date

ca. 1300-1470

Medium

Burnished blackware ceramic

Dimensions

8 1/2 x 9 1/2 inches (21.6 x 24.1 cm)

Credit Line

Gift of Professor B. S. Monroe, transferred from University Collections, Olin Library

Object
Number

69.182

BRIEF DESCRIPTIONThis is a Chimú ceramic double-chambered vessel in the form of a sea lion. Like ot(…)

BRIEF DESCRIPTIONThis is a Chimú ceramic double-chambered vessel in the form of a sea lion. Like other pre-Columbian vessels in the Museum’s collection, this vessel makes a whistling sound.WHERE WAS IT MADE?This vessel was made in what is now Peru.HOW WAS IT MADE?Chimú pottery was typically mass-produced using two-part press molds. First an original form was made from clay. After creating the mold (also ceramic) from this original, clay would be pressed into each half, and then later joined together. A variety of decorative motifs were molded in surface relief. Finally, the vessels were highly burnished prior to firing.The black color of “blackware” is achieved in the firing process. While firing ceramics in a pit fire, the fire is smothered just enough to remove excess oxygen while still burning hot enough to fire the pottery. Unlike ceramics fired with plenty of oxygen, which may range in color from creamy buff to orange or red, ceramics fired in a “reducing” atmosphere will be gray or black in color.HOW WAS IT USED?Although the specific use of whistling pots is unknown, we do know that sounds and music were important in the lives of pre-Columbian people, based on the many representations of musicians playing the panpipes and because of the large number of surviving ceramic whistles, whistling pots, and (more rarely) flutes. The sounds produced by such instruments were used to open connections to the spirit world. Music served to invoke benign guardian spirits. After the Conquest, Europeans attempted to ban musical instruments such as flutes in order to suppress such contact with spirits.In some vessels, such as this one, when water is poured in and rocked from one chamber to the next, a sound emerges from a whistle mechanism in the head. Notice the holes in the seal’s head where air would escape. WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE THIS?Chimú pots were made in a variety of forms including fish, humans, birds, lizards, vegetables and fruits, shells and other marine motifs, and people. This pot is in the form of a sea lion. Notice the ear flaps and four flippers portrayed on this vessel, which identify the pinniped as a South American sea lion, common along the Peruvian coast.Seals and sea lions were hunted for food, fat, and hides; oil made from their fat was used in lamps and torches, while their hides were used to make inflated rafts. Bezoars, the stones found in the stomachs of seals and sea lions, are prized by shamans in the Andes for their curative properties in healing rituals. Notice that the two large, rounded chambers are connected below, with a strap handle connecting the spout above the rear chamber to the neck of the animal figure above the front chamber.To see other whistle pots in the Johnson Museum’s collection, search for object numbers 80.029.004, 2006.070.022, 2006.070.026, 2006.070.031, 2006.070.033, 2006.070.040, and 2006.070.397 in the keyword search box. These pots were not exclusive to one pre-Columbian cultural group or one period of time, but were made at different times in different places.ABOUT THE CHIMÚ CULTURE:The Chimú Empire, or Kingdom of Chimor, was established in the Tenth Century in the Moche Valley on the north coast of present-day Peru. By 1400 AD, the Chimú ruled an empire 800 miles long, encompassing the fertile, agriculturally productive irrigated coastal valleys stretching from Tumbez to Chillón. The imperial capital of Chan Chan, located near the modern city of Trujillo, covered 20 square kilometers, housed a population of 50,000 to 100,000 people, and included pyramids, residences, markets, workshops, reservoirs, storehouses, gardens, and cemeteries. Chimú architecture is made of adobe decorated with geometrically patterned mosaics or molded bas-reliefs of stylized animals, birds, and mythological figures. Chimú artisans used similar decorative elements in their pottery, metal ornaments, and finely detailed textiles, many of which are embellished with ornate featherwork. Chimú pottery was mass-produced in molds by craft specialists and is typically highly burnished blackware. The most common shape was the stirrup-spout bottle, which often has a small monkey figure located on the spout. After the Inca conquest of Chimor in 1470, during the reign of Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui, Chimú vessels tend to have broad, flaring spouts similar to those on Inca aryballoid jars. Chimú-Inca vessels often have shapes similar to the Inca aryballos or urpu, but are typically made of Chimú blackware and are decorated in characteristically Chimú style.

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