Owl Stirrup Spout Bottle, 2nd–3rd century
Ceramic; H. 9 1/2 in. (24.1 cm), W. 4 5/8 in. (11.7 cm)
Gift of Nathan Cummings, 1966 (66.30.5)
Moche ceramists rendered naturalistic details of humans, animals, and plants with great anatomical precision. Exact species and even historical individuals can be recognized in sculptural images depicted with a high degree of realism. In Moche religion and iconography, birds of prey include falcons, eagles, condors, vultures, and owls. Naturalistic or anthropomorphized birds of prey perform a variety of ritual activities related to their natural behavior such as battles, hunts, and sacrifices. Perhaps because they are nocturnal, owls seem to be closely related to the funerary domain. Anthropomorphized owls prepare bodies and offerings for burials and also carry deceased warriors to the world of the dead. Many species of owls living in the desert environment of the Peruvian north coast are represented by Moche ceramists. This vessel probably shows a Tyto alba, recognizable by the heart-shaped facial disk and the absence of ear tufts.