Anthropomorphic pendant made from spondylus mollusc shell

A figure, made from a spondylus shell, stands out for its size. The most plausible theory is that it was the central piece of a funerary necklace, above all because the perforations to the shoulders and back of the piece would allow it to be held in place correctly. It is an anthropomorphic figure of a male, naked apart from a loincloth marked by an incision covering his private parts. The eyes are incised and these and the mouth are inset with mother of pearl or nacre. The ears are perforated and have two circular ear plugs. The work on the styled hair is of note, with locks crossing over the top of the head and falling straight down the back.

The craftsman who made this object adapted the body of the figure to the form of the shell so that he appeared as realistic as possible. The range of natural colours of the shell was also used to highlight the different parts of the body.

Spondylus is a native oyster easily recognisable for its thorny shell. It is found off the coasts of the Pacific near Ecuador. Its most notable characteristic is its orange-red colour. This led to it becoming a material of great value, collected and exchanged throughout all of Mesoamerica. It was mostly used for decorated jewellery for important people in these societies. This is clear from the presences of this material in the tombs of those of the governing classes.

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.

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