Eagle Transformation Figure
Not on view
This small, carved sculpture in a whitish greenstone known as albite represents a standing figure bearing both human and avian attributes. The composition is dominated by the figure’s head which occupies the upper half, while the rotund torso with incised umbilicus and limbs are minimally indicated below. The large, spherical eyes are separated by a contoured crest that projects upward above a small nose. The figure’s mouth is an avian beak, partially open as if mid-vocalization. A small beard protrudes from the lower jaw, and similar hairlike incisions begin at the hairline and terminate in an overlapping pattern that might suggest a combination of hair and feathers. Humanlike ears contain tiny drilled holes which may have supported adornments. Such figures with protruding chests and arms bent at the elbow, drawn up close to the body, have been interpreted as human figures with non-standard bodies as a result of skeletal dysplasia.
The avian attributes on the head could be interpreted as a complex mask-and-headdress assemblage worn on a human performer, or as the fusion of a human and raptor as part of a spiritual narrative about transformation. Throughout the ancient Americas, leaders commissioned works to harness the predatory power of flying creatures. Avian figures feature prominently in Olmec art at small and large scale, such as the cave paintings found at Oxtotitlan, Guerrero, Mexico, that depict a ruler in full birdlike regalia. This figure may have been the personal deity of an Olmec ruler, perhaps later deposited in a funerary or dedicatory context, as indicated by traces of the pigment cinnabar.
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