Figure Drum

Date: 2nd–1st century B.C.

Geography: Peru

Culture: Paracas

Medium: Ceramic, postfired paint

Dimensions: H. 15 in. (38.1 cm)

Classification: Ceramics-Musical Instruments

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979

Accession Number: 1979.206.1097


Music was an integral part of daily and ceremonial life in ancient Peru. Essential to religious and political celebrations, it was also performed for entertainment and recreation and accompanied herding and work in the fields. Songs served to tell myths and history. Andean music was played on percussion instruments such as drums and wind instruments including whistles, panpipes, flutes, and trumpets. Ceramic drums with central bulbous sounding chambers were made by Peru's southern coastal peoples during the last few centuries before the Christian era. On this remarkable example, which still preserves much of the original resin paint, a frontal, rotund body of a human figure is depicted. Outstretched, spindly arms extend horizontally on the bulging chamber and broad, snakelike streamers emanate from the figure's waist. They encircle the drum and may denote a supernatural connection. The head is cone-shaped and has modeled, slightly protruding eyes, ears, and nose. The figure sits atop the tall, wide mouth of the drum, over which a skin would have been stretched to provide a striking surface. When played, the drum would have been inverted.