Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History



  • Ancestral Shrine Figure, 13th–14th century; Mississippian
    Mississippian peoples; Tennessee
    Quartz sandstone; H. 26 1/2 in. (67.3 cm)
    The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.476)

    This ancestral figure was one of a male-female pair when discovered in 1895 on the banks of the Duck River in Humphreys County, Tennessee. Such figures played important roles among the more complex Mississippian societies of the Southeast during late precolonial times, when they were the focus of ancestor cults. The figures, primarily but not exclusively male, were placed and venerated in shrine houses together with the bones of significant ancestors. The figures are known today primarily in durable stone, although examples in wood exist. They are depicted seated and are very compactly—indeed weightily—made, as illustrated by the current example. The jutting chin and well-carved eyebrow ridge accord well with the angles and plains of torso, arms, and legs. The one raised knee distinguishes him as belonging to a special group of figures, in which customarily both knees are on the ground with feet tucked under or crossed. The drawn-up right leg gives the figure an active pose and a more lifelike aspect. When discovered at the end of the nineteenth century, this figure was named Adam and his female counterpart Eve. Eve's present location is unknown.

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  • Ancestral Shrine Figure, 13th–14th century; Mississippian
    Mississippian peoples; Tennessee
    Quartz sandstone; H. 26 1/2 in. (67.3 cm)
    The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.476)

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