Recipient with two coiled snakes

A vessel with great character with a wide mouth in the form of a spout. The body is made up of the front parts of two coiled snakes united in the centre. The base of the piece is completely flat. The craftsman has played with the movement of these reptiles, depicting them so that their heads appear of opposite sides of the vessel. The entire surface is decorated with incisions, some of which clearly define the heads, while others suggest the design of the skin. The mouth of the vessel is decorated with a pattern of lines and squares inside which diamond shapes have been incised.

The northwest of Mexico, where the Colima culture developed, is characterized by a low-lying coast carved by valleys. Each one has its own ecology with a warm, humid climate.

Little is known about their modes of subsistence, as most of the information we have comes from the funerary material, not inhabited sites which usually provide this kind of information. Thanks to their practice of irrigation farming, it was possible for them to support a relatively large population. They lived in small villages and relatively independent urban centres.

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. Moulded figures are common, especially of plants, animals (above all 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 basket-weaving and weaving, and used metallurgy to make objects such as needles, axes, rattles, nose rings and ear ornaments.

The vast majority of ceramic pieces that have been ascribed to this culture are grave offerings found in the tombs of individuals of high social rank. The Colima buried their dead in complex hypogea, called “shaft” tombs, made up of a shaft which, in some cases, was up to 30 meters deep, at the bottom of which there were one or more chambers where members of the same family were buried. The bodies were accompanied by a wide variety of objects, and offerings in the form of ceramic representations. Among these ceramic statuettes of armed men stand out, whose task it would have been to serve as symbolic guardians of the tomb.


- Vessel in the form of a snake. Museo Amparo, Puebla de Zaragoza, Mexico. n. 52 22 MA FA 57PJ 1110.
- Vessel with two snakes. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Los Angeles, USA. n. M.86.296.170.


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

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