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Pre-hispanic ceramic sculpture in Latin America


The Popol Vuh legend has it that the gods created men from clay. From those times to the present day, the hands of countless potters have incessantly repeated this creation in every corner of the continent. Beyond a remarkable production of objects with practical purposes, the indigenous ceramics also had a rich sculpture tradition. With a wide range of techniques, shapes, themes and purposes, these traditions had a common element: the use of clay as the chosen element to depict the indigenous universe.

The ceramics in these lands goes back a long time. Pieces between 6,000 and 3,500 years old have been uncovered. We could say that through clay, the men and women in these regions have created some of their most abundant testimonies since ancient times. Testimonies which, through the centuries, were etched in clay, preserving and maintaining a tradition that the conquest and colonization could not stop.

Archaeologists have divided the places where pieces were found into four main areas: Mesoamerican, Andean, Circum-Caribbean and Amazon.

Nevertheless, rather than splitting the continent, the history of pre-hispanic ceramics rather shows different and distant peoples to be made from the same clay. There are common motifs, shapes and techniques from the Caribbean coasts to the Andean heights. One style leads to another, in a growing wave that populates the region, leaving clay figurines in its trail in the most remote corners. The influence of some cultures can be found as far as North American ceramics. Some pieces which were also traded throughout the continent, a journey that has shaped America’s face before it was even known as America.

For more on the roots of Latin American ceramics tradition, download and share the printable version of this infographic (in Spanish), in color, tabloid size (432 x 279 mm), by following this link.

Research: Valentina Aguirre. Texts: Kael Abello y Valentina Aguirre. Icons and illustrations: Valentina Aguirre. Infographic design: Kael Abello. Translation: Ricardo Vaz


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