Ceramic; H. 4 5/8 in. (11.7 cm)
Gift of Timothy, Peter, and Jonathan Zorach, 1980 (1980.83.15)
In the third millennium B.C., inhabitants of Ecuador's southwest coast developed the earliest known ceramic figurine tradition in the Americas. Noted for the simplicity of representation, these clay statuettes were rooted in earlier stone figurine traditions from the same region. While some of the ceramic figures were relatively plain, consisting of simple grooved plaques reminiscent of their stone predecessors, others, like the one pictured here, displayed substantially more detail. The figurine, almost undoubtedly a female, has a red slipped body with rounded breasts and strippling along her lower abdomen. Her hands are clasped beneath her chest and her legs are splayed. As is typical of many Valdivia statuettes at this time, the figure's face is almost completely obscured by an elaborate coiffure which cascades down her back and which was most likely added as a separate piece of clay. Found in domestic as well as ceremonial contexts, some scholars have suggested that Valdivia figurines represent fertility figures, although this interpretation remains somewhat tenuous.