Figure making an offering

A pottery figure representing a man making an offering. The red tone of the piece contrasts with the details painted in white. He holds a bowl in both hands up against his chest. The hole that can be seen at the level of the chest was expressly to allow oxygen to enter during firing. He is wearing a long tunic and a type of hat. The hands and feet are represented very schematically, as was the custom in Colima artworks.

The Colima people lived in northwest Mexico, in a rugged, low-lying coastal region carved by valleys, each with its own ecology and a warm, humid climate.

Little is known about their modes of subsistence, as most of the information we have comes from artifacts from private collections and from the excavation of cemeteries, not residential sites, which usually provide this kind of information. We do know that they practiced irrigation farming, which allowed them to live in large groups in relatively independent villages and urban centers.

Colima ceramics display a wide variety of figures and shapes, but little variation in technique. Most pieces have a burnished red finish and some are decorated with orange or white incisions. Molded figures are common, especially of plants, animals (especially dogs) and seashells. Human representations typically feature dwarfs and hunchbacks more than others, and few female forms. Many of these figures have “coffee-bean” eyes and are dressed in finely detailed traditional attire. Little is known of Colima stonework; only a few pieces such as mace heads, small masks and figurines have been found. These people also practiced basketweaving and weaving, and used metallurgy to make objects such as needles, axes, rattles, nose rings and ear ornaments.

Little is known about the Colima’s social order, but shamans or priests may have occupied positions of social importance. The existence of figurines resembling warriors as well as prisoners with hands tied points to the ceremonial importance of war in this pre-Columbian society.

The vast majority of ceramic pieces that have been ascribed to this culture are grave goods found in the tombs of individuals of high social rank. The Colima buried their dead in family tombs up to 30 meters deep, some with multiple chambers. The bodies were accompanied by a wide variety of grave goods, including ceramic statuettes of armed men, which served as symbolic guardians. Ceramic sculptures of dogs were another common grave good, and were believed to be the emissaries of Xolotl, the god of death.

The history of the Colima people is not well known, but, like many Mesoamerican cultures, the Colima displayed some stylistic elements that links them with the ancient Olmecs.


- AA.VV, Sculpture of Ancient West Mexico, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1970.
- AA.VV, Trésors de la céramique précolombienne dans les collections Barbier-Mueller, 2003.
- VON WINNING, Hasso, Pre-Columbian Art of Mexico and Central America.
- TOWNSEND, Richard F. Ancient west Mexico. Art and archaeology of the unknown past. Thames & Hudson, Chicago, 1998.

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