Double-Spout Stirrup-Handle Vessel with Beansprouts, Nazca, Peru, 100–300 CE
Polychrome terracotta, 7 x 7 1/4 x 7 1/4 inches (17.8 x 18.4 x 18.4 cm)
Jay I. Kislak Collection of the Early Americas, Exploration and Navigation, Miami Dade College, MDC PC 2022.1.46
Famous for the Nazca Lines in the desert hills, the Nazca civilization flourished in ancient Peru between 200 BCE and 600 CE. The Nazca people also created some of the most distinctive art produced by any civilization in antiquity. Inventive in form and in the use of strong colors and bold decorative designs, Nazca ceramics are easily recognized. For the Nazca, who had only a symbolic writing method, designs on pottery vessels were an important means of communicating shared ideas and religious practices. They created vessels for rituals, burial offerings, and perhaps some utilitarian functions. Using very simple techniques, Nazca potters displayed technical accomplishments, including the widest color range found in any of the ancient Americas. The wheel was unknown, so the pottery was made by hand, utilizing a coiling method. The slip was then applied, and the vessel fired and burnished to a characteristic glossy finish. The slips were made from various mineral pigments, including manganese (black) and iron oxide (red).
The double-spouted stirrup-handle vessel is a typical, yet impractical, shape for the Nazca and later Andean cultures. By blowing in one spout, a whistling sound is created, perhaps to warn off the spirits of the dead, or, conversely, to welcome the dead to the spirit world. In this work, the polychrome designs feature beansprouts, animated with little eyes. They appear to be dancing around the circumference of the vessel and some sprouts are in more advanced stages of growth than others. To us, it appears a clever and happy design; it celebrates the significance of food, especially cultivated plants, and such vessels are often closely tied to depictions of agricultural ceremonies and fertility rituals in Nazca art. In the coastal desert of Peru, farming presented unique challenges. Rainfall in the region was so meager that the Nazca had to rely on the occasional flooding of small rivers and a system of underground canals for irrigation. Repeated references to agricultural abundance may reflect the society’s aspirations as much as its reality. The Nazca economy was fundamentally based on agriculture and fertility was particularly significant to the survival of crops, animals, and humans.
Photos by Lynton Gardiner. © Kislak Center at MDC.