In the Caribbean region, mainly between the islands of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, flourished the culture that European explorers first encountered. The Taínos are a product of the evolution of multiple migrations of Arawakan cultures from South America to the north. This constant influx of groups keeps leaving a cultural settlement that serves as a base to new artistic and religious traditions transformed into a new environment. This continuous movement contributed to the development of a culture open to foreign influence.
The pottery and lapidary art, practiced in the territory for centuries, demonstrates this evolution. The clay production is mostly for ceremonial purposes and daily use in a great diversity of forms and minimally decorated with line and dot incisions. The shape had greater importance than the decoration and possibly was the main preoccupation of the artist since we find vessels with infinity of variants that suggest purposes that go beyond the purely utilitarian. The lapidary production is far more diverse and sophisticated, from the axes production for everyday tasks and war, to the creation of masterpieces for religious and political power purposes. Lapidary experts carved and polished the toughest materials for the production of beautiful objects that are proof of the Taíno’s cultural and artistic development.
Tairona: 500 A.D. – 1521 A.D.
This culture developed in the territories where the Cordoba department in Colombia is located today, specifically in the hydrographic depressions of the Cesar and Sinu rivers. Besides being great goldsmiths, they were good ceramists, which is evident in the outstanding development of the pottery technique. Among the most frequent forms of this zone’s ceramics are the cups whose leg is a human figure standing in a pedestal that sustains the bowl of the cup in the head.
The saurian, avian, aquatic and feline representations were also frequent in the decoration of recipients, rollers and paint receptacles. The bell-shaped cups, earthen bowls and wide bowls, basket-shaped offering bowls and spheroid or ornitomorphours whistles are common. A style detail that highlights their figurative art is their juxtaposition with geometric designs, representative of their textile patterns, merging shape, function, and design.
Marajoara: 1100 A.D. – 1500 A.D.
This culture had its development area in the Ecuadorian coast, between the San Francisco Cape and the Caraquez Bay. This is a semiarid area, but with a vast supply of earth and maritime natural resources. It is principally known for its virtuosity in the clay manufacturing. There are recipients such as hand made pitchers, vases and tripods where small representations of houses or temples are prominent. Human figurines elaborated with molds over which they added details in “appliqué” and post-fired applied pigments represent the bulk of their pottery legacy. Thanks to these last ones, it is possible to recognize the attire and corporal decoration that the people used to wear, such as headgears, earflaps, nose pendants, bracelets and pectorals. However, the most abundant objects are the flat, curved or cylindrical stamps that were utilized to stamp drawings in the body, to decorate metal and to engrave fabrics and woods.
wax, welding, gold lamination, and the mixed utilization of techniques such as lamination, “repoussé”, and molds in which beautiful works of art were developed.
A wide range of forms, uses, techniques and finish also characterized the Tairona’s style and ability as ceramists. The figures vary within zones between zoomorphic, mythological, and anthropomorphic themes that reflect their power structure. The style is usually sober, elegant, finely elaborated and monochromatic. Ocarines, ceremonial vessels, pots for domestic use and funeral urns allow us to obtain a more in-depth understanding of this culture.
Diquis: 100 B.C. – 1200 A.D.
Taíno: 1200 A.D. – 1492 A.D.
Sinu: 0 – 1539 A.D.
Nicoya/Guanacaste: 800 B.C. – 1400 A.D.
The famous “cemis” from this culture, among them, the famous trigonolytes, are among the most beautiful and enigmatic masterpieces of all the Pre Hispanic cultures. Also, there are countless objects finely carved in organic materials such as conch, bones and wood, among them vomitive spatulas, hallucinogenic drugs inhalers, talismans, and others for personal decoration and utilitarian purposes. Very little wood material survived due to the high humidity of the region’s tropical weather; however, some rare and exceptional examples survive such as the “dujos”, which were utilized by the tribal chiefs as thrones or power seats, among others.
Valdivia developed in one of the driest zones of the south coast of Ecuador. It is famous for being one of the first American societies in which the use of ceramics became massive. They mainly made saucepans, earthen bowls and wide bowls, always of wide mouth and concave bowls. For the decoration of these vessels, they employed diverse techniques: modeled, molded or stamped, in which they drew geometric motives, over a generally polished vessel. Other remarkable examples of the pottery of this culture are the figurines, which in the beginning were made of stone and later clay. The bigger part represents women, showing traditional female roles such as puberty, pregnancy and childbirth. The importance of personal ornament in this culture is evidenced in figurines showing labrets or lip ornaments, necklaces, earrings among others.
narrow glasses. The other phase, called Sonso, is represented with three handle vessels, with two of them placed in the shoulders and one in the body with a spout, known as “canasteros” and utilized to carry liquid and “chicha”.
In the south eastern territory of Costa Rica, this culture was influenced both by the Nicoya/Guanacaste and by the norther region of Costa Rica. Their pottery and lapidary production is more rudimentary and less innovative. It tends to copy previously established artistic canons without incorporating more subtle elements, like a fine finish. However, we can say, without a doubt, that their metallurgic production is unsurpassable in the entire region.
Atlantic Region of Costa Rica: 300 B.C. – 1400 A.D.
over which fine geometric traces were drawn with red or black, calling up animal or anthropomorphous figures. Also, the “appliqué” and incision techniques were utilized by tracing geometric frameworks that, in some cases, allow us to distinguish animal figures and feline or human heads. They also made human figurines, in many cases represented sitting down. Other ceramic pieces were spindles for weaving, simple spoons decorated with animal heads, small stools sometimes decorated with human faces, bird-shaped whistles, and weights for fishing nets.
for all types of uses in an immense variety of forms. The figurative sculpture exhibits the most extensive variety in the imagination of the types represented, highly stylized, and reflecting a great stylistic harmony.
This culture flourished in the central region of Panama, in the current province of Veraguas, which has coasts in both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, in which several islands exist. Veraguas is representative of the polychromatic art of Panama, characteristic for its geometric and feather’s design in vessels and plates with pedestal. Vessels with half circle retable contain polychromatic designs of four to five colors. The designs are schematic representations of animals, fishes, manta rays, sharks, herons, standing cayman-gods, in straight or sideways position, or squatting. Other pieces are modeled by hand and not painted, of realistic style, representing hunch backs, pregnant women, and characters playing musical instruments, most of them with bended ribbon legs. In stone, the low-height three-legged tables are remarkable, in which the lower portion have carved zoomorphic or geometric motives. These have been interpreted as seats for funeral ceremonies and not as metates. They produced different little figures in limestone and in semiprecious stones, as well as pipes, which used to be made as an offering in tombs. The jewelers’ work has one of their best expressions in the curved beak eagles and spread out wings, typical of the attires of the chiefs and important characters.
that all their sculpture lacked a proper base, counting only with their perfect balance. The four-legged metates are mainly considered among the best artistic achievements and were highly esteemed by infinity of cultures in their own time. Equally, these fine objects are highly desired by collectors and museums today, attaining high prices.
Nariño/Carchi: 500 A.D. – 1539 A.D.
Bahía: 500 B.C. – 500 A.D.
Veraguas: 700 A.D. – 1532 A.D.
Calima: 1000 B.C. – 1539 A.D.
Chorrera: 1800 B.C. – 300 B.C.
Jama-Coaque: 600 B.C. – 400 A.D.
anatomy, and characterized by their majestic and immutable attitude. They frequently represent domestic scenes and in some cases, sitting male figures evidence with their bulky cheeks the chewing of coca leaves, for which they receive the name of “coqueros”.
In the Nariño/Carchi pottery, it is prominent the finish in negative-resist paint technique. It receives this name because the ornaments in the pieces strongly contrast with the reddish bottom, meanwhile the margins are black. The common forms were compote bowls with pedestal and annular base, lenticular trays, cooking pots, vessels and noticeable ocarinas that not only imitated the shape of a sea snail, but they reproduced a very similar sound. The negative painting technique, which is common in the rest of the pre-Columbian cultures from Ecuador, and the metallurgic technique of gold-filled show the links that the peoples of this zone had with other cultures of the central Andes. The negative painting procedure consisted in covering the designs with an argil layer, previously diluted in water, then the piece was submerged in a black pigment. Later on, the argil was taken off, and a gloss was obtained through vegetable resins. The most common motives were crosses, circles and rhombus, distributed in harmonious successions besides human, and various animal figures.
Quimbaya: 200 A.D. – 1539 A.D.
Located in the geographical zone currently occupied in the departments of Caldas, Risaralda and Quindío in Colombia and to the north of Valle del Cauca, many archeological findings have been made, mainly ceramics and gold work, which have traditionally been classified with the name of Quimbaya. At the arrival of the Spaniards, this territory was shared among numerous Indian chiefs. They maintained absolute independence from each other and at the same time very close relations.
Throughout the centuries, they produced multiple forms in ceramics and objects of gold for daily and ceremonial uses. In clay the most characteristic are the elegant conical vessels, decorated with negative-resist paint in geometric designs. The most frequent forms include whistling vessels of two globular bodies with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic themes, the double-valve with handle earthen wares, the flat and solid anthropomorphic figurines with perforations (apparently of magical, religious and possibly of offering use), and the melon-shaped funeral urns for secondary burial that at times carry an anthropomorphic figure affixed to the side and generally covered with a semi globular cover. They practiced diverse decoration techniques in ceramics, including incising, globular embossing in white, “appliqué”, and negative-resist painting in one color as well as polychromatic. As funeral dowry, quantities of bone pleated ruffle with white paste incisions have been encountered, what gives us a clear idea of their textile industry development.
The Calima culture is a conglomerate of ancient cultures that lived for centuries at the Valle del Cauca department in Colombia. There were several indigenous groups that inhabited a vast plain between the San Juan, Dagua and Calima rivers. The ceramics and gold work decorations appeared through the entire region and they show an extraordinary beauty. Most of the archeological material known about the Calima style has been obtained from their graves. In the ceramic production the anthropomorphic and zoomorphic vessels predominate, as well as the combination between both forms of water cooling jugs. Basket carriers and small sculptures of human figures endowed with realism (including physical attributes, outfits, and even facial expressions) are also common. Ceramics are categorized in two phases. The first is Yotoco, with a better finish, polish, and brightness with polychromatic paint, geometric designs and for its dichromatic red and beige impasto. The characteristic form of this phase is the double-valve with handle with zoomorphic and anthropomorphic representations along with other molded figures, plates, vessels, and tall and
This culture is concentrated mostly in the current territory of Panama and is characterized by a “chieftain” social organization, a rich and varied environment that supported small townships and their non-monumental art. The ceramic art is very distinctive and cannot be confused with any other. The most significant sub groups are Conte, Macaracas and Parita.
The pedestal plates represent their most idiosyncratical composition, richly painted in varied colors and in many cases, with three-dimensional details. Their structure is based in the hallucinogenic mushroom utilized in the shamanic rituals that induced them to trances with which the spirit communicated with the other world. Likewise, the style seems to be influenced by the symptoms of this trance by creating meticulous and vibrant compositions that look just like visual conundrums.
Valdivia: 3500 B.C. – 1800 B.C.
Cocle: 600 A.D. – 1300 A.D.
Guangala: 500 B.C. – 500 A.D.
The dual name this culture receives is partly due to the fact that it developed in a zone that includes the Nariño department in the extreme south of Colombia, and the province of Carchi in northern Ecuador. It is important to highlight the variety of their art work, especially in the clay anthropomorphous sculptures, among the ones that distinguish the figures of men and women in small stools and warriors with winged hats. They are generally enlarged, without an accurate correspondence with the human
The Bahía culture developed in the Ecuadorian coast, between the Caraquez Bay and the Silver Island. They inhabited an intermediate zone in a semi-desert environment and a forest, with an optimal climate. Above all, it is known for its modeled ceramics. Some seem to represent temples, in which interior resides a human figure with two serpents in the manner of walking sticks or scepters. Other ceramic figures represent animals, cradles, personal ornaments like nose pendants and earflaps, and musical instruments. The most common are figurines of naturalist style, where persons with deformed skull features are shown and exquisitely adorned. Certain figurines show what seem to be tattoos or corporal painting. They also worked materials such as stone, metal, shells, wood, bones, textiles and basketry to manufacture the necessary artifacts for daily and ceremonial life.
The evolution of the ceramic production of this culture constitutes their greatest artistic achievement. There is knowledge about pottery production of this Pacific coastal region of Costa Rica from at least the year 800 B.C. Obviously, many cultural and artistic transformations took place throughout the centuries. Due to its intermediate geographic location, in the heart of Central America, the art of this region was greatly influenced by the passage of information between continents. After their own development and evolution, important artistic innovations took place that now will be exported back to the continental cultures.
Polychromatic vessels, zoomorphic representation in figurines, and figures of shamans are typical of this culture iconography. Different from other Prehispanic cultures, their anthropomorphic representations are almost strictly feminine.
The pottery technique was very sophisticated, utilizing countless resources such as molding, incising, painting and slips in vessels
The denomination of the Tairona culture has been used to designate the entire set of Pre Hispanic vestiges found in the west and north of the Sierra Nevada in Colombia and over the contiguous coastal zones. The specialization of the artisans’ associations took shape in the magnificence and variety of the domestic and ritual ceramics, the gold and silver work and the stone and bone carving, in works that endured throughout the ages as a legacy of the Tairona man. The gold work, always outstanding in the American panorama, expresses the complexity of the metallurgic knowledge including techniques of lost
Although in pottery production this culture develops and competes with their southern counterpart, Nicoya/Guanacaste, the lapidary production is the one that will excel in its artistic development. The artistic production initiates with ceramics where rough clay is utilized, and explores endless zoomorphic forms inspired by the diverse fauna. Particular of this culture is the three-legged vessel form, which was developed with countless variations, all of them without pigment.
The artistic splendor of this culture is truly expressed in the stone-based sculpture production. Their themes include human and animal representation in utilitarian and ritualistic pieces, all of them sculpted in the round. A curious fact is
The ceramics of this culture have a meticulously polished surface, looking almost like a mirror, over which different tones of red, black, smoky and yellowish white tones were utilized, by separating zones with points and incisions. The paint is iridescent and was applied with technique in the negative. The vessels represent, with accuracy and naturalism, animals, plants, fruits, architectural works and the human form. These last ones are represented in spherical and voluminous forms, carrying a turban or coiffure in the head, which could have been a sign of special status in the society. It is worth to mention that they developed the technique of manufacturing molds to speed up the production process; however, they maintained a high quality in the hand-made finishes and decorations of these pieces. There are also new forms such as the bottles-whistle, which by blowing through the neck or by moving the liquid content, emitted sounds. Others are also solid with a smooth surface, like the figurines and even some larger and hollow figures with asymmetric decoration.
The Marajoara culture developed in the islands of the Amazon river outlet, especially in the Great Island of Marajó, opposite the coasts of Brazil.
The most characteristic artistic manifestation of the Marajoara culture is the ceramics work, because other possible art crafts such as feather or wood work have not been preserved due to humidity of the climate. The vessels were of a variety of sizes and shapes, but only a part of those were decorated. The entire piece was covered with a white paint,
The Guangala culture flourished in the Ecuadorian provinces of Manabí and Guayas, between semi-arid coasts and fertile valleys. In this culture, large quantities of stone tools (chisels, axes, scrapers, hammers) that were utilized to carve wooden objects were made. The metallurgy was also very advanced, recurring to distinct techniques such as plate-hammering, “repoussé”, welding, and casting. Copper fishhooks, needles, nose pendants and small five-point stars of unknown purpose are some of the elements that were manufactured with these techniques. Nevertheless, the work in ceramic was the most common. The most outstanding pottery is the one of red-orange color and black with mainly geometric, of curved and linear types. Also, the burnished lines over unpolished surfaces are characteristic, as well as the “appliqué” technique to decorate the feet with “cartooned faces” of humans, almost always with sad gestures. In spite of the fact that ceramic figurines are less numerous than in other northern contemporary groups (like the Bahia Culture), large numbers of these have been found. Their forms go from a great realism to the complete stylization. Masculine and feminine figures may be identified.
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