Hunchbacked Figure

Date: 12th–9th century B.C.

Geography: Mexico, Mesoamerica

Culture: Olmec

Medium: Ceramic, pigment

Dimensions: H. 2 5/8 x W. 2 1/4in. (6.7 x 5.7cm)

Classification: Ceramics-Sculpture

Credit Line: Gift of Carolyn C. and Dan C. Williams, 1989

Accession Number: 1989.392


The many representations of hunchbacks have led to the suggestion hunchbacks people held positions of importance in the ancient Mesoamerican world. Beginning with Olmec peoples, these individuals were thought to possess special abilities due to their physical anomalies. The hand-modeled, white-slipped surface of this Olmec figurine is painted with brown pigment delineating both realistic and symbolic features on the face and chest. The naturalistically rendered face, with its almond-shaped eyes, broad nose, and thick lips, is similar in type to that exhibited by Olmec colossal basalt heads. This realism, combined with the figure's relaxed body posture, makes him seem lifelike despite his small size. The figurine may have been a personal possession, perhaps belonging to a ruler or one who desired to keep the supernatural powers of a hunchback close at hand. Later representations of hunchbacks depict them as members of royal courts where they may have been due to the ruler's desire to commune with the supernatural realm to which the hunchbacks were thought to have access.