Pair of Bowls, Trophy–Head Deities, 3rd–1st century b.c.
Ceramic, postfired paint; H. 2 in. (5.1 cm), W. 6 3/4 in. (17.2 cm), Diam. 6 3/4 in. (17.2 cm)
Gift of Nathan Cummings, 1963 (63.232.79, 1976.287.31)
Paracas people lived in small villages in the arid environment of the south coast of Peru. The prestige of Paracas tombs discovered in large cemeteries contrasts with the apparent simplicity of their dwellings. Privileged members of the Paracas society were buried in elaborate bundles made with multiple layers of fine textiles, some of which were decorated with intricate and colorful embroideries. Figures painted on Paracas polychrome ceramic vessels are reminiscent of textile iconography. Anthropomorphic or zoomorphic figures seem to fly or float, with sprouting plants and streamers emanating from their bodies. These stylized human figures show many typical components of Paracas figurative art. They are grabbing trophy heads by the hair and snakelike streamers emerge from their mouths. The black triangles on their back take the shape of obsidian knives. Such knives are commonly found in south coast sites and are often represented in association with trophy heads. Paracas vessels were decorated with the postfire resin painting technique. Mineral pigments were mixed with plant resin probably extracted from the acacia tree. When heated, the resin becomes liquid and can be used as a binder. While cooling, the resin paint hardens and adheres to the ceramic vessel, creating a shiny surface.