The Treasury - Fine Pre-Columbian Art


9979. EXCEPTIONAL LA TOLITA JAGUAR SHAMAN HEAD, Ecuador, Tumaco-La Tolita, c. 300 BC. Ceramic torso of a human shaman wearing a collared garment and large headdress but with a large-fanged jaguar head with large curled serpent's nose and tongue. Height 5". Fine quality. On custom stand. Provenance: Purchased by the present owner from a major New York City antiquities dealer in the 1990's.

Human shamans who shape shifted into animals, especially jaguars, under the influence of psychotropic drugs are a specialized motif in Meso-American art. The current piece, with its classic glyphic-style jaguar head is an especially impressive example.

The Tumaco-La Tolita culture developed in the coastal region of Southern Colombia and Northern Ecuador between 600 BC and AD 200. Numerous archaeological sites have been discovered that show the highly artistic nature of this culture, many of which depict highly realistic human heads and figures rendered with great artistic skill. Artifacts are characterized by gold jewelry, beautiful anthropomorphic masks and figurines that reflect a hierarchical society with complex ceremonies and are especially prized by collectors. An excellent reference is 'Tumaco', by Yves Sabolo.