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Ceramics - Figures


Nayarit Figures (Mexico)

Origin I Characteristics I Urgency of the Situation I Legislation I Bibliography

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Nayarit figure,
ceramic, 40.3 x 19.5 cm
Nayarit figure,
ceramic, 33.8 x 18.2 cm
Nayarit figure,
ceramic, 20.2 x 13 cm
  © Museo Nacional de Antropología © Museo Nacional de Antropología © Museo Nacional de Antropología


Western Mexico.


The "Shaft Tomb" culture, characterized by tombs containing the hollow clay figures known as "Nayarit figures", "hollow figures" or "funeral figures", developed throughout the state of Nayarit.
Although most of the figures are the product of looting, archaeologists have determined that they pertain to the Late Formative and Early Classic periods, from 300 BC to 500 AD.
In general, they represent human figures of different sizes.
The biggest ones measure approximately 1.2 m whereas the smallest ones can measure 10 cm. They are made of paste in shades ranging from dark brown to red and cream.
Common representations include warriors with weapons, men and women in standing or sitting position, figures holding vessels, pregnant women, women with children or couples. Their bodies are wide and their legs disproportionately big. Their faces are long with almond shaped eyes, a fine nose and a horizontal half-open mouth which in some cases shows teeth.
All Nayarit figures are modeled and decorated using the appliqué technique. For the most part, they are known for their painted decoration in shades of red, white, yellow and sometimes black featuring facial and body paintings, hairdos and head-dresses or textile motifs. They wear multiple rings in their ear lobes.


--Urgency of the Situation  

The looting of these items started in the 19th century and there are very few archaeological expeditions that have found these objects through scientific methods. The grace and ingenuity of these figures and their anecdotic style, allow us to imagine a lost society, accounting for the high market demand for these pieces.
The problem lies in that there is little information regarding the cultures of western Mexico, because they left no written accounts and there are very few remnants of these cultures. Scientific information regarding these cultures is lost due to looting, which hinders the advancement of science and accounts for these archaeological items' lack of value as a testimony of cultural processes.
The state of Nayarit, along with other entities in western Mexico where the Shaft Tomb culture developed (Jalisco and Colima, where similar hollow red figures in the shape of humans, dogs, and fruits such as pumpkins are found) is one of the most affected by looting as 90% of clay figures come from illegal excavations. All sites that are not related to architectural remains are found in agricultural fields and cattle ranches. Looting has intensified due to the development of tourism and urbanization.


--Legislation Protecting these Objects  

See Mexico

  • Foster, M.S. & Weigand, P. The Archaeology of West and Northwest Mesoamerica. London,Westview Press, 1985.
  • Lévine, Daniel. Contribution à l´archéologie de l´Ouest Mexicain: Etats de Colima, Jalisco, Nayarit. Paris, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, 1984.




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October 2003