Subscribe to Archaeology

Hollow Ceramic Figurines

November/December 2013

Culture: Western Shaft Tomb
Location: Mexico
Date: 100 B.C.-A.D. 400



For more than 1,000 years, a culture flourished in what are now the western Mexican states of Jalisco, Nayarit, and parts of Colima. Most of what we know about the culture comes from artifacts taken from shaft tombs—usually by tomb raiders—including examples of heavily tattooed hollow ceramic figurines. Some scholars believe the figurines depict gods, while Christopher Beekman of the University of Colorado Denver suspects that they may in fact represent the people with whom they were buried. Certainly the designs were intended to communicate identity and status, particularly considering that the figurines appear to have been used in ceremonial contexts, and also set up in residential areas to be seen and visited. According to Beekman, it is notable that the tattooing occurs prominently around the mouth, which may refer, as it does in Classic Maya society, to the breath of life or the capacity of polished speech of these individuals.

Ceramic Female Figurine
Ötzi, the Iceman
Faience Figurine and Bowl
Dogu Figurine
Lapita Fragment and Engraving
Red-Figure Vessel
Moche Mask and Mummy
Hollow Ceramic Figurines
Head Effigy Pot
Ibaloi Mummy
Iron Age Mummy
Tarim Basin Mummy