The ancient city of Tiwanaku on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca in the Bolivian highlands has been renowned for its impressive architecture of precisely cut, sharp-edged stone and intricately carved, monumental stone sculptures which can reach as high as twenty-four feet. The columnar figures depict individuals wearing short-patterned skirts, wide, elaborate belts, and hats or caps; they usually hold two objects, possibly snuffing tablets, tightly to their chests. The large sculptures are thought to have been part of public rituals honoring ancestors; smaller figures like the present example may have been for private ceremonies conducted by elite families or clans.
Once Nelson Rockefeller was Governor of New York—he took office on January 1, 1959—he no longer had time to view first-hand many of the objects that were offered for the collection, but was shown photographs instead. Robert Goldwater and René d'Harnoncourt saw the works and would send a written recommendation with the photos. They often began: "René and I strongly recommend" and were signed "Robert." Advisor to the collection Junius Bird also appreciated this figure, as it could be related to the great stone monoliths of the site of Tiwanaku in Bolivia.