Date: 9th–12th century

Geography: United States, New Mexico

Culture: Mimbres

Medium: Ceramic, pigment

Dimensions: H. 5 x Diam. 11 in. (12.7 x 27.9 cm)

Classification: Ceramics-Containers

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1964

Accession Number: 1978.412.123


About a thousand years ago, the peoples of the Mimbres Valley of New Mexico produced many ceramic vessels decorated with sophisticated painted images of birds, animals, and men, and combinations thereof. Done primarily in black on a more-or-less white ground, the Mimbres images are noteworthy for their spontaneity and individuality. No other group of Southwestern peoples decorated ceramic vessels in a similar manner. While many Mimbres bowls feature geometric patterns—the common regional mode of embellishment—the figurative and narrative imagery is unique to the peoples of the Mimbres Valley in the early centuries of the second millennium A.D. The pairing of figures is much favored. Deer, antelope, rabbits, and mountain sheep—the latter seen in the bowl here—are most frequently depicted in this manner. The bowls have largely been discovered in subfloor burials, customarily only one to a burial, where they were placed over the face of the deceased. Many are pierced, or "killed," and the significance of such kill-holes is unclear. Explanations for them range from rendering the bowls functionally useless to allowing their spirit, or that of the deceased, to escape.