Paquimé jars

Connections between the southwestern U.S. and Mesoamerica are revealed in these vessels featuring parrots or macaws and a merchant.

Effigy jar, c. 1200–1450, clay and paint, Paquimé, Chihuahua, Mexico, 23 x 18 cm; and jar with parrot design, c. 1150–1450, coiled and hand built, painted clay, attributed to Paquimé, Chihuahua, Mexico, 20 x 24 cm (National Museum of the American Indian, New York)

[0:00] [music]

Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:06] We’re in the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, and we’re looking at these two vessels from the site of Paquimé in Chihuahua, Mexico.

Dr. Steven Zucker: [0:15] This is northern Mexico, and contiguous with the Four Corners region.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:19] Something that people have been looking at more recently are the connections between peoples in what is today the southwestern United States and what we also call Mesomerica, which is Mexico and parts of Central America.

Dr. Zucker: [0:31] We can certainly see that in the vessel that’s on the left, where we see a double-headed representation of a tropical bird. That looks like a parrot or a macaw to me.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:39] At the site of Paquimé, which was previously referred to as Casas Grandes, they had pens where they were breeding macaws.

Dr. Zucker: [0:46] Now, these are tropical birds that would have had to have been imported from the areas controlled by the Maya to the south.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:53] Macaws would’ve been challenging to keep alive, let alone breed. These birds indicate that there would’ve been wealth and also elite culture here at the site of Paquimé.

Dr. Zucker: [1:01] We’re able to identify the type of bird, and yet this is not a naturalistic rendering of the bird. It is flat and it’s reddish-brown and surrounded by this beautiful and complex linear pattern.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [1:13] You really have to turn around or walk around, in the case of the museum, to get a sense of the movement across the surface that the artist was able to achieve.

Dr. Zucker: [1:21] There’s an even more complex vessel just to the right. Here, I see this rotund human figure with this marvelous wide face.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [1:29] And these small eyes that are actually in relief and this little chin that also projects, it’s really wonderful how the artist animated the face of this figure.

Dr. Zucker: [1:38] Look at the mouth. It’s this wonderful little rectangle with small teeth that are indicated, and it seems as if he’s speaking. On the projection that is the chin, there are three black lines suggesting facial hair.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [1:49] If we look at the body of the face, we see this fantastic spiral design as well as black contour lines, interesting geometric patterns, that is making this such a dynamic surface that you’d want to turn around in your hands to look at it.

Dr. Zucker: [2:03] The whole surface spins and connects the sides and the front and the back. I’m interested by the planar surface at the forehead. We think that’s actually a strap that is helping this figure move something that weighs a significant amount on his back.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [2:18] We think this is a merchant, someone who would have been traveling vast distances to acquire goods and also trade goods from this area of northern Mexico. We know that there’s this massive flow of goods across incredibly long distances.

Dr. Zucker: [2:33] We have a figure that is a representation of transit, of movement, that is rendered with a sense of dynamism and energy.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [2:40] What I find remarkable about these two vessels from Paquimé is that they’re helping us to overcome or rethink some of our modern-day assumptions about peoples in contact with one another.

[2:50] That here we have this vessel of a merchant is clearly speaking to these vast trade networks from Central America up through the Southwest. It’s forcing us to think of these divisions that have been set in place in the modern world.

[3:02] [music]

More about the effigy jar at the National Museum of the American Indian

Introduction to the Mogollon

John A. Burrison, Global Clay: Themes in World Ceramic Traditions (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017).

Marit K. Munson, The Archaeology of Art in the American Southwest (Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2011).

Barbara L. Moulard, et al., Casas Grandes and the Ceramic Art of the Ancient Southwest (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 2005).

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

[flickr_tags user_id=”82032880@N00″ tags=”Effigy,”]

More Smarthistory images…

Cite this page as: Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank and Dr. Steven Zucker, "Paquimé jars," in Smarthistory, June 15, 2022, accessed April 24, 2024,