Barrick Museum

You are here

Braunstein Symposium Speaker Abstracts

John E. Clark

Covering their Their Nakedness: Early Mesoamerican Figurines and Clothing Images of naked females predominate in most Mesoamerican early figurine assemblages, with representations of clothing or body coverings being rare exceptions. My presentation focuses on figurines from the Mazatan region of Chiapas, Mexico, with an eye to clothing and cloth. The few early figurines with representations of clothing appear to be of male leaders, with female figurines depicted nude but with body paint and facial and/or neck jewelry. Evidence of cloth and cordage is rare for these early peoples, but some impressions show up on burned tabs of figurine clay. Ironically, the best evidence of actual cloth appears on the heads of Ocos phase (1500–1400 B.C.) female figurines. Cloth with a simple weave was used to provide the texture of the special hairdos of some figurines. Whether these impressions were meant to represent a cloth head covering or were used just to provide a hair-like texture to a clay figurine, I cannot say. My primary purpose is to present information for comparative discussion rather than rush to speculation. Sufficiently clear, however, is a diachronic trend indicating that cloth and clothing became symbols of high status by Middle Formative times, as most clearly evident in the early record of Olmec stone sculptures of elite males. The evidence of cloth on early figurines helps establish the history of cloth in Mesoamerica, and the pattern of female nakedness evident in early figurines is a significant part of the broader story of changes in the Mesoamerican status system and its prerogatives and representations. It is ironic that the persons who probably wove the cloth were not depicted wearing it and maybe did not wear it until Late Formative times.

Ann Cyphers

Face to Face, Head to Head: Exploring the Significance of Olmec Figurines Formative period clay figurines from Mesoamerica afford a kind of unconventional snapshot of people from the past. In general, the formal and stylistic features suggest that the majority illustrate important physical features and attire that are related to different people and their diverse social identities. Physical appearance plays an important role in identity insofar as it relays inclusion/exclusion messages perceived by insiders and outsiders. A notable aspect of physical appearance that is shown in Olmec figurines is cranial deformation, a permanent body modification that may point to concepts of group affiliation and membership. In this presentation, I will focus on figurines obtained in my excavations at the Olmec capital of San Lorenzo, Veracruz, Mexico, in order to characterize the procedures used in such modifications and then trace and read chronological changes in physical appearance through the Early and Middle Formative periods.

Kata Faust

Effigy Head Vessels and Celestial Symbolism in Ancient Huastec Art and Thought The practice of decapitation was a spatially and temporally widespread phenomenon in ancient Mesoamerica that was laden with religious and cosmological symbolism. In particular, severed heads and their representations were associated with astral bodies as deities of the night sky, and performances featuring these relics were linked with the ritual and agricultural calendar cycle. Historical documents suggest that the Huastec were infamous for taking, displaying, and preserving the severed heads of their enemies and renowned chiefs. Physical and iconographic evidence for such practices in Northern Gulf Coast region manifests in burials containing either skulls or headless bodies, mural paintings, carved shell pectorals, and ceramics. In this paper, I explore the iconographic symbolism and meanings of trophy head effigy vessels, which were produced in quantity throughout the Huasteca in the Middle and Late Postclassic periods. Particular consideration is given to the astrological associations of these objects in light of Huastec participation and the pan-Mesoamerican “Venus Cult” that flourished during this time. Ethnohistorical and ethnographic data pertaining to beliefs about the heavenly bodies and their influence on the natural and social environment can further inform our understanding of trophy head vessels as images of apotheosized star warriors.

Kelley Hays-Gilpin

Three Figurine Traditions in Northern Arizona and New Mexico: Gender and Gestures Anthropomorphic figurines are curiously scarce in northern Arizona and New Mexico, an area well known for elaborate pottery, rock art, basketry, and textile traditions. Yet several strong but short-lived figurine traditions emerged in relatively large communities in several times and places. These figurine traditions do not overlap in time and space, and they seem to be unrelated to each other in style, technology, and context. I will compare and contrast seventh-century Basketmaker III female figurines, Chaco-era figurines and effigy vessels, and Protohistoric period stone figurines with images of human and human-like figures in rock art and other media in each era, with particular attention to gender, gestures, and media (stone, paint, and clay). Patterns suggest changing contexts for ritual use of feminine imagery in the Pueblo World.

Gerardo Gutiérrez and Mary Pye

An Exploration of Nahualism and an Olmec Transformation Figurine From Guerrero, Mexico In this paper, we present an Olmec-style figurine from eastern Guerrero that we recently recorded from the archaeological collection of the municipality of Huamuxtitlan. This figurine depicts two distinct individuals perfectly integrated within the same carving. The attributes of these two individuals in one sculpture represent complementary opposites: up versus down, front versus back, eyes open versus eyes closed. We believe this figurine depicts Middle Formative symbolism and, in particular, two stages in the process of human-animal transformation, or nahualism. Using the figurine as illustration, we explore the ethnography and ethnohistory of nahual beliefs in Mesoamerica.

Julia Hendon, Rosemary A. Joyce, and Jeanne L. Lopiparo

The Marriage Figurines of Western Honduras: Style, Context, and Meaning During the Late to Terminal Classic periods, western Honduras was home to a vibrant tradition of mold-made figurines and whistles. Widely traded, these objects were integrated into ritualized events at home and sometimes placed in caches or graves. Honduran mold-made figurines and whistles are notable for the variety of their themes and imagery, including different animal species, women and men engaged in different activities, and figures that combine human and animal features. The present study concentrates on a particularly distinctive theme, that of the so-called “marriage figurines,” paired humans in which the two figures are not identical and in some cases are clearly distinguished from one another in terms of gender. Paired humans of this type have been found at Copan, Tenampua (in Comayagua), and from several sites in the lower Ulua Valley, giving us a set of objects with good archaeological context that sheds light on the production and consumption of marriage figurines in the region. Our review of the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian/Heye Foundation, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (Harvard University), and the Lunardi Collection has identified additional examples and has demonstrated that the shared theme was rendered in several distinctive styles. Our presentation considers the social role and significance of these objects in the context of the complex societies of the region.

Rosemary A. Joyce

Patterns of Identity: Group Membership in Honduran Formative Figurines In previous papers, I have identified a series of regularities in the extraordinarily diverse Playa de los Muertos figurines of Middle Formative Honduras that seem clearly related to age-based distinctions within a group of almost entirely female figurines. The diagnostic features of the depiction of the oldest female group in the Playa de los Muertos figurines, which include the use of punctuation to represent cropped hair and the most complex ear ornaments of the figurines recorded, were already established in the late Early Formative in the small sample of known Chotepe Phase figurines from the region. By the Late Formative, either age distinctions were no longer the subject of representation or only the young adult age was being depicted, with conventions of costume, body ornaments, and hair treatment that were much less varied than previously but generally consistent with the young adult subgroup of the Middle Formative period. While age grades provide the most satisfactory way to divide Playa de los Muertos tradition figurines into subgroups, this subdivision does not explain all the specifics of variability among these figurines. In this paper, I return to the examination of the details of costume and hair treatment in figurines of the Middle Formative period (ca. 900–400 B.C.). I pay particularly close attention to the variety of shaved patterns evident in hair on figurines of the young adult/adult groups and more rarely found on elderly figurines. These patterns, while highly diverse, can be seen as falling into a number of patterns that cross-cut age groups and are found on figurines in postures suggesting different actions. I argue that the patterns of variation that can be documented with the larger sample I have been able to record since my original studies were completed might be understood as crests, emblems of identification with specific localized residential groups, whether at the scale of the individual family, a series of related families that we can consider a social "house," or the village.

Pam Miller

Fremont Figurines of Utah With a Special Emphasis on the Pilling Figurines Unbaked clay figurines are a unique trait of the Fremont Culture, found primarily in Utah. The 1,000-year-old figurines exhibit similar characteristics that identify them as Fremont but also show some unique features between collections. The best known Fremont figurines are those known as the Pilling Figurines, named after the rancher who found them in 1950 in an overhang in a small side canyon near the now-famous Range Creek canyon. This presentation looks at the background of the Pilling Figurines, compares them with other Fremont figurines, and finally surveys rock art of the area for other manifestations of anthropomorphs with similarities to the figurines.

Erin Sears

The High Road or the Low Road?: Late Classic Maya Figurines Within the Alta Verapaz-Petén regions, Guatemala Studies of Mesoamerican figurines have been undertaken for many purposes, ranging from simple description or classification to more nuanced attempts to infer such things as interregional contact to gender and ritual leadership. Reconstruction attempts generally derive from a need to make some form of "sense" from a large corpus of figurine material. These are important studies but often leave unaddressed sparsely represented materials found in dispersed collections. In this paper, an effort to integrate some of these more occasionally present figurines is undertaken with the assistance of data derived from instrumental neutron activation analysis. Specific attention is given to Maya Late Classic figurines from the Alta Verapaz region collected in the 1930s and held in the New World collections of the University Museum at the University of Pennsylvania. The analytically derived data is used to assess similarity in sources of manufacture and to see paste-based relationships to other intra- and extra-regional materials. Such information is then combined to suggest stylistically communicated contact zones involving regions of the Maya highlands and lowlands.

Christine VanPool

Women of the Sun: Southwestern Effigies and the Cosmology of Femininity Casas Grandes Medio Period (A.D. 1200–1450) polychromes include male and female effigies. These effigies reflect gender-based differences in body positions, activities, and associations with cosmological significant creatures, indicating that the artisans illustrated generally accepted gender constructs/roles and cosmological associations. Males are depicted smoking pipes, seated with their legs drawn to their bodies, and with plumed serpents, whereas females are depicted with their legs extended from their bodies, holding bowls and children, and frequently associated with birds. One of the motifs, the "modified pound signs," that represents a textile, is found only on female effigies in the Chihuahuan polychromes but is also common in ceramic traditions (e.g., Salado) to the north, where it is found with birds and women and on women's tools (e.g., serving ladles). Paramount among the birds depicted in effigy is macaws, which are also associated with women and were obtained from Mesoamerican groups to the south. Pueblo myths hold that plumage of macaws represent the multiple colors of maize ears associated with the Corn Maidens, who follow the macaws to the south to live with the sun during the winter. The general association among women, textiles, and birds in the Casas Grandes and other Southwestern traditions appears to reflect the adoption of an iconographic suite across the American Southwest by A.D. 1000 that rose to prominence during the 14th and 15th centuries and continued into the historic Pueblo occupation, especially Hopi. The development of this iconographic family and its implications for women's cosmological principles will be explored.