A potter created this complex ceramic vessel in the form of a juvenile bird of prey, perhaps a harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja). Built by hand, the chamber of the vessel includes a cylindrical base, perhaps symbolizing a nest, which is indicated by gouged and incised designs of linear fields and cross-hatched areas. The round nest is surmounted by a bird, seated with its claws spread to the sides rather than perched, with its wings splayed to either side. The long tail feathers of the bird spill over the side of the nest. The bird opens its hooked, narrow beak, exposing its tongue as if beseeching the viewer for food. The opening of the vessel is a circular hole in the top of the bird’s head.
Incised designs indicate the lines of the feathers on the wings and tail, the borders of the beak, and the circular eyes. This young raptor appears completely birdlike but has human ears extending from either side of the rounded head. The ears have contours and stretched lobes with depressions that indicate ear ornaments. Eagles and other birds of prey were powerful symbols in Olmec art, where they marked the realm of the sky and the precision of a hunter. The inclusion of humanlike ears here may indicate the intent of the artist to convey a moment of co-habitation or transformation from human to animal.
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