Anthropomorphous offering vessel

Eastern Cordillera - Muisca Period600/1600

Museo del Oro, Bogotá

Museo del Oro, Bogotá
Bogota, Colombia

This Muisca pottery object is the lid of an offering vessel. The container in which the offerings of small figures made of gold, cotton, quartz or emerald were placed went under it, sometimes half-buried in the floor of indigenous shrines or places of worship, and the openings that we can see on the bottom of this lid allowed it to be tied with a cord to the container. The offerings or "payments" that were made in order to maintain equilibrium in the world were inserted in the upper opening, rather like in a church money box. The human figure which adorns this artefact is one of the most typical found in Muisca ceramic art, albeit with a language far removed from –but just as interesting as– that of Muisca metalwork art, where the anthropomorphous tunjos have flat, triangular shapes. It is not so much his schematic, disconcerting stare, or his rectangular nose-ring made of cast gold strands and birds' heads hanging from his fine, aquiline nose that make him so impressive, as his headdress. The clay braids and the circles and dots that have been stamped with a cut cane and a small stick represent the soft texture of the cotton. The conquistadors described various types of cotton caps that the Muiscas wore. Most of them were white, but a number of priests wearing black caps performed a funeral ceremony for Muisca warriors who died in the first skirmish with Spaniards, in early March 1537. Many caps were cylindrical, like the Turkish fez or those that are worn today by the Ijka or Arhuaco indians on the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The most notable, however, had side "flaps", like this one. The effigy of a leading dignitary sitting on a small wooden bench is completed by two "necklaces" made of small metal sheets cast in a series, which the Muiscas wore crossed over their chest and back, and, in the right hand and almost hidden, a typical Muisca weapon, the sling or "atlatl". Two small figures on the front of the object round off this portrait of Muisca society (behind are two birds): each great chieftain formed alliances with numerous minor chieftains and leaders, as did these latter with an infinite variety of farmers and traders, in order to make up the powerful society that the Europeans found when they reached the centre of what is today Colombia. EL


  • Title: Anthropomorphous offering vessel
  • Creator: Eastern Cordillera - Muisca Period
  • Creator Lifespan: 600/1600
  • Creator Nationality: Colombia
  • Creator Death Place: Colombia
  • Creator Birth Place: Colombia
  • Date: 600/1600
  • Physical Dimensions: w194 x h310 mm
  • Type: Ceramic
  • External Link: Cosmology and Symbolism room
  • Technique: Modeling in clay
  • Finding: Colombia
  • Accession number: C00493

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