Hollow Jaguar, Colima, West Mexico, Proto-Classic Period, 100 BCE–100 CE
Polychrome terracotta, 7 ½ x 7 ½ x 13 ¼ inches (19.1 X 19.1 33.7 cm)
Jay I. Kislak Collection of the Early Americas, Exploration and Navigation, Miami Dade College, MDC PC 2022.1.38
This unusual object resembles a crouching jaguar with a feline face and fangs but a rounded doglike body. Traces of painted spots can be seen on the front and the holes on its sides may have allowed steam to escape during firing.
Found throughout the Americas, jaguars were revered for their power, impressive size, reputation as predators, and, with their night vision and spotted camouflage coats, their ability to survive in the jungle. All major Mesoamerican civilizations (and many Andean societies) had prominent, fierce, and potent jaguar gods.
Dogs, too, were indigenous to the ancient Americas. Throughout Mesoamerica, dogs served as companions, hunting partners, and even food sources. They were also connected to the underworld. Many ancient Mesoamerican cultures believed that a dog treated kindly in life would aid its master in the afterlife, allowing the deceased to grab onto its tail to be towed across a body of water to the land of the dead. Other groups believed that the gates to the afterlife were guarded by a dog that was easily pacified with tortillas. Even the Aztec god of death, Xolotl, had a dog’s head, and it was said that the dogs on earth were sent as his emissaries.
Ceramic portrayals of dogs, likely modeled on Mexican hairless dogs, are particularly numerous in the shaft tombs of West Mexico, placed among the burials’ great quantities of ceramic human figures and dishes of food for the journey after death. Most of these dogs are depicted as plump and docile, as is this creature. As tomb offerings, these fattened animals may have symbolized food for the deceased’s arduous underworld voyage.
Photos by Lynton Gardiner. © Kislak Center at MDC.