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The fantastic being on this pot has a head reminiscent of an orca and a body like that of a pollywog. It is covered with featherlike appendages and sprouts a pair of human legs with a loincloth. Combining attributes of creatures from all three realms of nature—water, earth and sky—this creature is formidable indeed. In this scene, it devours a human being, head first. The victim’s red blood splatters inside the monster’s mouth. The same scene is repeated on the opposite side of the vessel, with another human victim’s bent sticklike arm and body barely visible at the far right.
As is evident on this vessel, many Nasca images are visually complex, the product of combining multiple symbolic elements to convey nuanced cultural concepts. Note, for instance, the small attachments floating inside the monster’s body, as if in a river current. They underline the water and fertility theme generally associated with pollywog imagery. The creature’s loincloth, eye, and legs sprout vegetative appendages, possibly again underlining the theme of fertility. The streamers emerging from the eye are in the same style as those emerging from the rear leg and delineating the image to the right. Although not visible in this photograph, the creature’s human victim holds the same kind of streamer in his left hand. Perhaps the streamers symbolize the offerings that humans must make to appease the monster and to ensure a balance of the three realms it represents. In an agrarian society like that of the Nasca, such a balance was essential to agricultural production and human survival.
Boone, Elizabeth Hill (ED.) 1996 Andean Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks; No. 1. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C. vol. 1, p. 109-110, pl. 15.
Bühl, Gudrun (ED.) 2008 Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 274-275.
Davies, Nigel 1997 The Ancient Kingdoms of Peru. Penguin Books, London; New York. fig. 9.
DeLeonardis, Lisa 2000 The Body Context: Interpreting Early Nasca Decapitated Burials. Latin American Antiquity 11 (4):363-386. p. 376-377, fig. 12.
Formerly in the collection of William C. Burdett Jr., Gloucester, MA (collector)
Gift to Dumbarton Oaks by William C. Burdett Jr.,1981.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.