Chupícuaro Figurines of Preclassic Mexico

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The Preclassic period of Mesoamerica is marked by the appearance of well-known Pre-Columbian societies like the Olmec, the Zapotecs, the city of Teotihuacan, and the Maya. It is known for the emergence of agriculture, public architecture, and the development of larger communities.

Chupícuaro refers to a Preclassic site and culture. It was once a source of considerable influence in central Mexico, particularly in ceramic production, encompassing the present Mexican states of Jalisco, Nayarit, Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, and Guanajuato. Though the main site in Guanajuato is now beneath the waters of an artificial lake created in 1949 by the Solís Dam, excavations conducted by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia of Mexico have provided a glimpse into the lives and culture of the people who lived there.

The inhabitants of Chupícuaro devoted their time and skills to creating pottery figurines, and other small artifacts. Trading distributed these items into the basin of Mexico and Morelos, and other cultures adopted their style. Characteristically flat, Chupícuaro human figurines can also be realistically three dimensional or shaped into vessels. They are distinguished by their slanted, coffee-bean shaped eyes. The figurines are typically depicted as female, indicated by a part in the center of the hair or headdress, and can be fashioned with intricately molded clay clothing and jewelry. Most figurines were left unpainted, but occasionally some were decorated with bright colors. Hundreds of years later, the remnants of red paint can still be seen on some of their faces and jewelry.

The collection containing these figurines was assembled by a former mayor of St. Louis, Missouri, A. J. Cervantes, to be displayed by the Spanish International Pavilion Foundation of St. Louis at the New York World’s Fair of 1964-65. When the Foundation filed bankruptcy in 1970, the collection passed through several sales before being bought by private individuals from Springfield, Oregon. In 1985 they graciously gifted the items to the Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Photography and research by Melissa Chacon de la Cruz and web development by Keith Hamm. Images © UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History.

Further Reading:

Baldinger, Ellen and Baldinger, Wallace S.
1985   Appraisal. Accessions files, University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History.

Weaver, Muriel Porter
1972   The Aztecs, Maya, and Their Predecessors: Archaeology of Mesoamerica. Seminar Press, New York.

Williams, Eduardo
N.d.   Prehispanic West México: A Mesoamerican Culture Area. Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, INC. Website, accessed July 2012.

Female Human Figurine Kneeling (front)
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Female Human Figurine Kneeling (back)
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Female Human Figurine (front)
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Female Human Figurine (back)
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Vessel, Kneeling Human (front)
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Vessel, Kneeling Human (side)
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Male Human Figurine (front)
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Male Human Figurine (back)
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Female Human Figurine (front)
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Female Human Figurine (back)
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Female Human Figurine (front)
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Female Human Figurine (back)
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Female Human Figurine with Bone Necklace (front)
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Female Human Figurine with Bone Necklace (back)
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Female Human Figurine Seated with Child on Lap (front)
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Female Human Figurine Seated with Child on Lap (back)
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Female Human Figurine with Dog (front)
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Female Human Figurine with Dog (back)
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Female Human Figurine with Hands over Abdomen (front)
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Female Human Figurine with Hands over Abdomen (back)
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Male Human Figurine (front)
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Male Human Figurine (back)
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Female Human Figurine with Hands over Breasts (front)
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Female Human Figurine with Hands over Breasts (back)
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Female Human Figurine (front)
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Female Human Figurine (back)
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