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Important / Rare Tairona Pottery Jar - Mountain Bear

Pre-Columbian, Colombia, Tairona region, ca. 1000 to 1550 CE. A large pottery vessel in the form of a female anthropomorphized bear comprised of human-looking limbs, breasts, hair, and face above bear paws and ears. Wide eyes, with deep-set small beads of clay representing the iris, give the figure an intense stare. In addition, a short nose, with prominent nostrils, contributes to the human/bear hybrid form of the animal. Size: 7" L x 9.6" W x 12.5" H (17.8 cm x 24.4 cm x 31.8 cm)

We know the Tairona were familiar with the Spectacled Bear native to that region, but this figure's human characteristics are important too. What is the meaning of this vessel? Based on rock art from this region, we know that the Muisca, who lived roughly contemporary with the Tairona, had a belief that when they died, their souls went either to the cold paramo region or turned into bears or deer. The mixture of human and animal features on this figure and in the Muisca belief systems speak to a belief in liminal spaces, often occupied by shamans in Pre-Columbian societies, who seem to have had the ability to assume animal characteristics while retaining their human intelligence.

The Tairona lived in circular house platforms with areas of the houses divided for labor by gender. Ceramic manufacture seems to have been the realm of the women in the household, and small burnishing stones used for smoothing the surface of pottery prior to firing have been found in their areas. Effigy jars like this one were made specifically to be placed into tombs.

Condition: Intact with surface wear as shown.

Provenance: Ex- Private Atlanta, GA collection

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