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Submitted by admin on Tue, 02/05/2008 - 11:23am

Miniature representations of human and animal forms were made of ceramic, bone, and metal, and provide an emic perspective on identity and ideology.  Other images are known from the monumental stone sculpture found on islands in the Nicaraguan lakes.  Since identity was one of the significant goals of Project SIN, we have paid close attention to the many figurines recovered from the site, including a BA thesis by Nicole Brunel and an article in press by Sharisse and me. A more extensive study is underway by Laura Brannen, a PhD student from Emory University.  The Santa Isabel figurines were drawn by Kristina Zamec and Sharisse McCafferty.

Figurrne from NMA

Female figurine from National Museum of Anthropology


Hundreds of figurine fragments were found at Santa Isabel.  They were evenly distributed across the community and found mixed with domestic debris, suggesting that at least some figurines were used in domestic practice.  The majority of the ceramic figurines were anthropomorphic, and most of the identifiable figurines were of females based on anatomical and costume elements. 

SIN figurine 1     SIN figurine 2

Figurines from Project SIN


Many of the figurines had facepaint, especially around the eyes and also a horizontal band across the mouth.  Several figurines exhibited dental modification.

 Figurine with face paint     fig with dental modification

 Figurine with face paint                                            Figurine with dental and ear modifications


Many of the female figurines had distinctive headbands and other textile garments, and it is suspected that these may be informative for regional or ethnic distinctions. 

Figurine with headband     Zoomorophic headband

Textile headband and upper body garment          Detail of animal imagery in headband


Another characteristic that may have significance in terms of identity is hair style.  This may relate more to male figurines, though gender is relatively difficult to distinguish using fragmentary pieces.

fig with tonsure hairstyle     Fig with twin horns     Fig with plaited hair

Figurines with diverse hairstyles

Figurines are decorated with patterns that can indicate clothing and body paint.  Textiles may be indicated  using the plaited twill motif of clusters of parallel lines set perpendicular to one another, as in the headband and upper body garment illustrated above.  Tatooing and body paint were also common.  This practice is supported in ethnohistorical accounts of the indigenous population at the time of Spanish contact. 

Female with costume and paint     Jaguar print costume

Female figurine with upper body garment               Figurine with jaguar skin lower body garment


The majority of the anthropomorphic figurines are interpreted as representing mortals, though perhaps nobles or shamans.  Patrick Werner (2000) used this information to infer high status for females in Chorotega society, and Laura Brannen sees these as powerful female ritual practitioners.  The relatively few male figurines include numerous hunchbacks, often perceived as having supernatural qualities.  Project SIN did recover a figurine and a common form of vessel support that may depict the Mexican deity Ehecatl, the wind god who was also closely linked to long distance trade.

Ehecatl figurine    

Ehecatl figurine


Ehecatl supports

Ehecatl vessel supports


Additional figurines from Project SIN were monochrome.  Whereas they resemble figurines from the earlier Bagaces period, virtually no Bagaces pottery was recovered, suggesting that either these figurine styles continued in use, were curated as heirlooms, or were collected perhaps by children who saw them as potential playthings.  The quantitiy of the monochrome figurines is most compatible with the first possibility, and supports the hypothesis that this was a multi-cultural community.

Monochrome fig  head 1     Monochrome fig head 2

Monochrome figurine heads


Monochrome figurine body     Monochrome figurine drawing

Monochrome figurine bodies


Zoomorphic figruines were also found, though some of these are probably appliqus attached to the outside of vessels.  These may have symbolic significance relating to the animistic religious practices, or perhaps totems associated with lineage groups.  On a more fundamental level, they offer insight into some of the animals of the rich natural environment.

Coati mundi figurine

Coati mundi figurine (?)


Serpent figurineEagle figurine

Serpent figurine                                                                  Eagle vessel support


Feline support     Parrot support

Jaguar support                                                Parrot (?)  support


Two additional figurines were found that were made from more exotic matierals.  The head of a duck was carved out of bone, and a small anthropomorphic figure was represented in what has been tentatively identified as native copper. 

duck head figurine      Duck head profile

Duck (?) head


Metal figurine

Copper figurine






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