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A Sacred Effigy from Mina Perdida and the Unseen Ceremonies of the Peruvian Formative
Author(s): Richard L. Burger and Lucy Salazar-Burger
Source: RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, No. 33, Pre-Columbian States of Being (Spring,
1998), pp. 28-53
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Peabody Museum of
Archaeology and Ethnology
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20167000
Accessed: 29-01-2018 20:35 UTC
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28 RES 33 SPRING 1998
Figure 12. Front of anthropomorphic effigy. 73 x 33 cm. Photo: Richard Burger.
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A sacred effigy from Mina Perdida and the unseen
ceremonies of the Peruvian Formative
During the second millennium b.c., a growing
population of farmers in the lower valleys of the
Peruvian coast built dozens of massive architectural
complexes. The number and scale of these Initial Period
centers was rarely equaled in Andean prehistory.
Investigations at such Initial Period sites suggest that
their primary purpose was to provide settings for
religious rituals and social gatherings of the small-scale
societies occupying the valleys. These sites are
characterized by large open plazas for public assemblies
and terraced platforms and pyramids topped by a variety
of chambers, patios, and other settings for religious
ceremonies. Little is known of these ceremonies, but
our recent discovery of a puppetlike effigy at one of
these sites, Mina Perdida, offers clues to some of the
activities that occurred on pyramid summits at such
Initial Period centers.
Studies at these centers along the Peruvian coast
are still in their infancy, and few sites have been
studied in depth. Nevertheless, the work carried out
thus far already suggests the difficulties of
reconstructing the ceremonies carried out either in the
plazas or in the smaller, more intimate spaces on the
pyramid summits. Foremost among these difficulties
are the obstacles created by the patterns of artifact
discard or, more exactly, patterns of curating items
utilized in the rituals and the maintenance of ritual
environments free of refuse. In short, the very items
necessary to detect the ceremonial behavior at these
Initial Period centers have been systematically
removed from their ritual environments. The reasons
for doing this varied. In many cases, reuse of the
paraphernalia may have been planned while, in other
cases, the sacred items were destined for reuse at a
later time, disposal in a special archaeological
context, or disposal as secondary refuse elsewhere.
The authors express their gratitude to Peru’s Instituto Nacional de
Cultura for permission to carry out excavations at Mina Perdida and to
Dr. Luis Watanabe and the staff of the Museo de la Naci?n in Lima for
their support in conserving and restoring the sacred effigy. The
investigations were supported by funding from the Heinz Foundation,
the Fisher Foundation, and Yale University. The fieldwork involved the
participation of residents from the Lurin Valley, archaeology students
from Yale, San Marcos, Cornell, and the Universidad Cat?lica (PUC),
and archaeologists Jose Pinilla and Bernadino Ojeda.
These obstacles are by no means unique to the
Andes; in fact, they are common throughout the world.
Nevertheless, in his overview of the processes of
archaeological site formation, Michael Schiffer
(1996:48) observed that artifacts with important symbolic
functions sometimes become obsolete and can be
discarded. For example, some “sacred” objects are
deliberately thrown out after their use in New Guinea
and New Ireland. It is implied but not made explicit in
Schiffer’s statement that objects that hold symbolic
importance more commonly are not discarded and
consequently are not found in the systemic context in
which they were used. A related and cross-culturally
observed pattern is that even those symbolically
charged items that are no longer needed for their
original functions may have become so closely linked
to their original transcendent purpose that they are not
disposed of in the ways that utilitarian objects are.
One possible solution is to completely destroy such
objects when their ritual purpose has been completed.
Until very recently, the Nyau secret society of the
Chewa culture in Malawi, for example, burned the
masks used in the initiation and funerary rituals at the
end of each ceremonial season, and its members
produced new ones the following year (Deborah Kaspin,
pers. comm., 1998). Similar accounts of destroying
ceremonial paraphernalia (sometimes by discard in lakes
or forest rather than by fire) have been recorded in many
parts of Africa and the Pacific.
The widespread tendency to curate sacred objects
and paraphernalia over long periods of time derives in
part from the supernatural power associated with them.
Even during their use lives, the sacrality of these items
often requires that they be kept apart in special
circumstances physically removed from the mundane
materials used in daily life. Two common solutions are
storage in special facilities in the community or in areas
outside of the settlement. For example, the Warao near
the mouth of the Orinoco have specialized structures or
sanctuaries in which a sacred stone, wooden images,
and ritual paraphernalia belonging to the priest-shaman
are kept out of public view in baskets and boxes
(Wilbert 1972:79-80). Similarly, in sub-Saharan Africa,
non-Christian groups frequently keep religious objects
wrapped in cloth and placed in baskets and boxes
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30 RES 33 SPRING 1998
within special buildings or shrines. Such structures were
closed to the public except on special religious holidays
(Michelle Gilbert, pers. comm., 1997). These concerns
with the care of sacred paraphernalia are likewise
addressed by the Roman Catholic Church in its sacristy,
a room in which the priest’s vestments are kept along
with chalices and other ritual objects.
In many societies, sacred objects do not fully lose
their power even when they are damaged and can no
longer function as originally intended. Notions of the
residual sacred power associated with them creates
difficulties for their disposal. The Spanish extirpators of
idolatry observed that pagan religious objects in the
Andes had to be completely obliterated since even
fragments of the original objects were believed to
contain the spark of sacred power and could themselves
become the object of worship if they survived. These
difficulties in dealing with the discard of symbolically
charged items are by no means confined to cultures of
the distant past or to the “traditional” societies that have
been the focus of ethnography. Jews, for example, have
religious laws governing the storage and burial of worn
out holy books and ritual objects. Sacred relics, usually
fragments of holy individuals (for example, saints) or
objects (for example, the Cross) remain important
sources of power for many Orthodox and Roman
Catholic worshippers in contemporary churches, and
some relics have been curated by churches since
Medieval times. While some relics were occasionally
stolen or sold as valuable commodities, they were not
discarded (Geary 1986). Given the cross-cultural
patterning concerning the treatment of sacred objects
noted here, it is not surprising that the excavation of
ritual contexts in the Andes and elsewhere rarely
unearths the paraphernalia and cult objects that played
central roles in religious ceremonies. This is certainly the
case for the centers of the Initial Period.
A second pattern of discard that creates an obstacle
for approaching Initial Period ceremonial life is the
absence of refuse left from the ceremonies. It has been
suggested elsewhere (Burger and Salazar-Burger
1985:115-116) that the removal of primary refuse in the
quest for a state of cleanliness underlies the paucity of
materials recovered from floors in areas of ritual activity.
Long ago, Mary Douglas recognized that although each
culture has its own notions of dirt and defilement, there
are cross-cultural regularities that derive from the nature
of refuse itself. She writes:
In its earliest stage, where the identity of its bits still have
some identity, they are recognizably out of place and
consequently a threat to good order observed. Their half
identity still clings to them and the clarity of the scene in
which they obtrude is impaired by their presence.
Douglas 1966:160
Given the meticulous care usually taken in ceremonial
environments in order to create controlled settings
evocative of sacred time and space, it is not surprising
that broken fragments from completed ceremonies and
other activities are almost always systematically
removed and deposited in places where their presence
is not disruptive, distracting, or disturbing.
While these two site formation processes, the curating
(or complete destruction) of symbolically important
items and the elimination of in situ refuse stemming
from ceremonial activities, create considerable
difficulties for an empirically based consideration of
Initial Period ritual activities, there remain other
potential sources of evidence. For example, the religious
iconography that decorates the structures themselves is
nonportable and thus may be unearthed in its original
setting unless it is intentionally mutilated or violently
removed by later groups, or destroyed naturally by the
elements. Such “decorative” features in the architecture
may be particularly germane to the study of the
ceremonies in question since they often represent the
divine or mythological basis for the religious ideologies
practiced in those environments and even for the
ceremonies themselves.
For example, a rare glimpse into the ceremonial life
of the late Initial Period is provided by the frieze of
sculptures decorating the walls of the circular plaza in
the Old Temple at Chavin de Huantar in highland Peru.
Roughly contemporaneous with the final occupation at
the coastal sites of Mina Perdida and Cardal, these
stone carvings show a procession of costumed
anthropomorphic figures approaching the central
staircase from both sides of the built environment
(Burger 1992:133-135; Lumbreras 1977). The figures are
dressed in elaborate garb, including bracelets and
anklets, perhaps of precious metals, body ornaments
apparently of feathers, and distinctive headdresses, at
least one of which incorporates the tail of a jaguar.
Some carry musical instruments, including some made
of strombus shell, and they appear to blow these
trumpets. They also carry weapons such as darts and
clubs. If these images depict supernatural or historic
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Burger and Salazar-Burger: A sacred effigy from Mina Perdida 31
figures that provide the mythological charter for ritual
activities, it is possible that many of these features would
have appeared in the ceremonies themselves. This
possibility receives indirect empirical support from the
discovery of actual strombus shell trumpets in burials
and other Chavin contexts (Burger 1992; Onuki
1995:15, pis. 10-11 ). Of course, feather ornaments,
woven slings, and many other items central to ritual
were organic and highly perishable, thus ruling out their
survival in environments like Chavin de Huantar. Yet
even the more resistant materials (that is, shells, precious
metals, and so on) were nowhere to be found when the
Plaza at Chavin was excavated by Luis Lumbreras in
1969. Only a scattering of broken pottery, probably
deposited after the Plaza was no longer in use, was
recovered on its floor (Lumbreras 1977). Without the
decorative friezes cut in stone, we would have little
sense of the rich ceremonial life that was carried out at
the Old Temple.
Returning to Peru’s central coast, investigations at
Initial Period centers in the Rimac and Lurin Valleys
have likewise yielded few remains that would allow us
to imagine the nature of the ceremonies that were
carried out in the built environments at these sites. The
architect Carlos Williams observed that along the central
coast, public centers dating to the Formative have
ground plans laid out with a U-shaped pattern
consisting of a terraced pyramid and lower terraced
platforms surrounding a large central plaza on three
sides. All of them were oriented to the east of north,
although there is considerable variation between the
azimuths of the central axes of the centers. He identified
some twenty of these complexes (Williams
1985:228-234, fig. 1), but his preliminary estimate
based largely on aerial photographs now appears to
have significantly underestimated the total number of
complexes. In the lower Lurin Valley, for example,
Williams identified three U-shaped centers, but
subsequent field research has shown that there were at
least six (fig. 1). Thus far, the investigations at U-shaped
centers in several valleys suggest that all of them began
to be built during the Initial Period (1800 B.c-800 b.c.
[uncalibrated ages]).
As Williams observed, the U-shaped centers of the
Lurin, Rimac, Chill?n, and Chancay drainages are
strikingly similar in their basic components and they are
widely assumed to have shared in a single cultural
tradition during the Initial Period. The artistic and
Figure 1. Map showing the location of U-shaped centers in the
Lurin Valley. Map: Bernadino Ojeda and Richard Burger.
architectural tradition developed in this region was one
of several sources of inspiration for the highland Chavin
style (Burger 1992, Williams 1985), and chronologically
these U-shaped coastal centers all predate the
emergence of the Chavin horizon.
Of the Initial Period centers on the central coast, the
best known are Garagay in the Rimac Valley and Cardal
in the Lurin Valley. Excavations of interior rooms
designed for religious rituals have been carried out at
both centers and a brief consideration of the results
provides useful background for the present study. At
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32 RES 33 SPRING 1998
Garagay, summit buildings were unearthed on the
central pyramid (Mound B) and the northeastern
platform mound (Mound A), and in both cases, clay
friezes were found to adorn the environments. On the
main pyramid, the interior walls of the midsized atrium,
which measured 24 m on a side, was decorated with
polychrome images of anthropomorphic arachnids and
geometric forms (Burger 1992, Salazar-Burger and
Burger 1983, Ravines 1984, Ravines and Isbell 1976).
The prominence of enlarged canines (or fangs) and the
unnatural combination of human and animal features
strongly suggests the mythical and supernatural nature of
these motifs. Iconographie study of Formative
representations of the supernatural arachnid has linked it
to a cosmology focused on death, fertility, and rainfall
(Salazar-Burger and Burger 1983). The geometric motif
that alternates with these supernatural figures at Garagay
combines a stepped-block element with a curvilinear
element, perhaps fusing symbols referring to the
mountains and ocean. In later Andean cultures, these
geographic features were intimately linked in a single
cosmology in which water cycled from the oceans to the
mountains and then back again, thereby justifying
offerings made at mountain peaks to influence the
patterns of rainfall (Reinhard 1985).
While the motifs decorating Garagay’s summit
chamber suggest the possible focus of the rituals that
were carried out in it during the late Initial Period,
Ravines and Isbell (1976) report nothing recovered on
the floor of the chamber itself that might help flesh out
the ceremonies conducted there. Some items of religious
significance, which will be discussed later in this article,
were dug out during the chamber’s excavation, but these
belonged to intentional fills and the sem?subterranean
sockets that supported wooden posts. These items have
been treated as votive offerings in sacred locations
rather than as elements used in the ceremonies
themselves. The clay wall decorations in Mound A
likewise show stylized images with strong symbolic
content, particularly the monochrome motifs on a series
of pilasters; these bas-relief sculptures combine
anthropomorphic with masklike feline, avian, and other
elements (Ravines 1984).
Excavations at Cardal revealed patterns that resemble
those of Garagay in many respects. On the central
pyramid (referred to as sector IIIA), an atrium was
located at the mound’s summit. As at Garagay, a massive
and steep central staircase led up to a shallow landing
that, in turn, provided access through an entryway into
the atrium area. While the landing would have been
visible from the plaza, the activities inside of the atrium
were not. Unlike the situation at Garagay, the unpainted
interior walls of the Cardal atrium were decorated only
with a plain raised band. However, the highly visible
landing outside the atrium was decorated with a
polychrome relief sculpture of a large-toothed mouth
with prominent canines. The style of the mouth matches
that used in other representations of supernatural figures
and strongly suggests the religious character of the
activities carried out in the atrium chamber behind it.
Once more, however, excavation of the floor of this
room (known as the Middle Atrium) and a similar and
later chamber constructed above it (known as the Late
Atrium) showed little direct evidence of the ceremonies
conducted there. One exception was the reburial of a
series of human bodies in the floor of the Middle Atrium
at the moment when the room was being filled to make
possible the construction of the Late Atrium. While this
was clearly an event of major religious importance and
considerable symbolic meaning, likely associated with
the veneration of ancestors (cf. Burger and Salazar
Burger 1991), it was a singular ceremonial episode and
was fundamentally different from the more standard and
repetitive ceremonial activities for which the built
environment was designed. A similar staircase-landing
atrium arrangement is believed to exist on the terraced
pyramid on the northeast of Cardal’s main plaza and test
excavations in this area by Scheele revealed a repetitive
wave decoration similar to the one at Garagay (Scheele
1970:177-178, fig. 8A). Subsequent excavations at
Cardal by the authors relocated this frieze and revealed
that it occurs on the exterior walls of an atrium. Like the
altar at Cardal (Burger and Salazar-Burger 1991:280
281) and the iconography at Garagay, this stylized form
seems to point to religious ceremonies concerned with
the forces imminent in the ocean and mountains and, by
extension, in the powers controlling rainfall and fertility
that were associated with these natural features in
Andean cosmology.
This article focuses on a rare example of late-Initial
Period religious paraphernalia that was discovered at
Mina Perdida in 1994 by Yale University’s Proyecto
Arqueol?gico Lurin. The object in question is a sculpted
and painted anthropomorphic effigy with movable arms
and legs. Made of perishable materials, it was only
preserved as a result of the arid conditions of the
Peruvian coast and the specific context and manner of
its disposal. In the following sections, its discovery will
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Burger and Salazar-Burger: A sacred effigy from Mina Perdida 33
be summarized, the object will be described in detail,
and its significance for understanding late-Initial Period
ritual life will be explored.
The archaeological site of Mina Perdida
Before focusing on the discovery of the sacred effigy, it
is germane to offer a brief description of the
archaeological site in which it was found so that its
context can be more fully appreciated. Mina Perdida
(PV48-11 7) is by far the largest of the six U-shaped
centers in the lower Lurin Valley (fig. 1). Located on a
natural terrace above the valley bottom and 100 m above
sea level, the site lies 8 km from the shores of the Pacific.
In contrast, it was only 1 km away from the small and
now destroyed U-shaped center of Parka and 3 km from
the mid-sized U-shaped center of Cardal. The prehistoric
remains at Mina Perdida cover roughly 30 ha (hectares);
about half of this area is occupied by public architecture
(fig. 2). The site is dominated by a central platform
mound that rises 23 m in height. This structure was a
terraced pyramid with a massive central staircase, and on
its leveled summit there were elaborate colonnades and
freestanding structures. Two long, low, terraced platforms
perpendicular to the main pyramid flanked an open
plaza of roughly 8 ha in area. The lateral platforms,
sometimes referred to as the arms of the U, apparently
did not exceed 6 or 7 m in height, but extended some
280 m in length. Extensive daily refuse coeval with the
public constructions appears along the perimeter of the
monumental architecture. Large-scale horizontal
exposures to the southwest of the main pyramid have
revealed the postholes of perishable structures and, in
one case, the footings of a freestanding building that may
have served as a residence.
During four short field seasons at Mina Perdida
beginning in 1990, we have recovered architectural and
other data indicating that the site has a long history
spanning much of the second millennium b.c. and that
the great size of the main mound is due to dozens of
sequential architectural episodes. This pattern of
incremental growth is most evident in the sequence of
six superimposed central staircases documented for the
front of the pyramid. This conclusion is supported by the
17 radiocarbon measurements currently available from
the site. These range from 3520 b.p.?100 (Beta-80345) to
2870 b.p.?90 (1-14, 252). Both these radiocarbon dates
and the artifacts at the site point to a long Initial Period
occupation that was cut short when the site was
Figure 2. Plan of Mina Perdida. Map: Bernadino Ojeda and
Richard Burger.
abandoned at the end of the late Initial Period.
Reoccupation of the archaeological complex by later
valley farmers was light and short-lived, and it left little
impact on most sectors of the site.
The discovery of the effigy
On August 2, 1994, excavations were being carried
out on the back of the main pyramid (Sector IIIA). The
excavations were part of an effort to clarify the nature of
the pyramid’s terracing and to determine whether any
other architectural features were present. In this portion
of the mound, fragments of the upper terrace walls were
visible in some spots, but most of the terracing and the
overall layout was obscured by redeposited materials
that had eroded downslope from the pyramid’s summit.
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34 RES 33 SPRING 1998
Figure 3. Mina Perdida’s rear staircase with partially cleared adjacent
terraces. Photo: Richard Burger.
Sections of one of the upper terraces were selected for
studies because fragments of a wall running
perpendicular to most of the terracing had been
encountered, and this suggested the possibility of niches
or some other element. Further excavation revealed that
the wall running perpendicular to the terracing
corresponded to the lateral wall of a massive rear
staircase that scaled the terracing, thereby providing
Isom?trica Escalera Sur
Figure 4. Isometric drawing of the rear staircase. Drawing:
Bernadino Ojeda and Richard Burger.
access to the summit from the open land behind the
complex (figs. 3-4). Some 20 linear meters of this
stairway were exposed from southwest to northeast. This
rear staircase resembled the contemporary front staircase
at Mina Perdida by being built on top of the terracing,
rather than set into it, as was the case at Cardal (Burger
and Salazar-Burger 1991). The rear staircase differed
from Mina Perdida’s main staircase by being much
smaller in width and considerably less steep, and by
narrowing as it approached the summit. As a
consequence of the latter feature, the lateral walls
encasing the stairway do not form a straight line as one
moves from terrace to terrace. This initially confusing
feature led us to study this zone more intensively than
originally had been intended.
An early stage of this work focused on a 3.3-m-wide
terrace adjacent to the staircase, which was sustained by
a stone retaining wall (M-73) and backed by another
stone terrace wall (M-106). The original height of the
back terrace wall (M-106) before its collapse was
approximately 210 cm. A talus of unconsolidated soil
and debris sloped from the top of M-106 to the top of
M-73, completely hiding the terrace. The eroded debris
included fragments of adobe, scraps of cord, clay with
impressions of wattle and daub, and pacae leaves. After
removing this material to a depth of 1 70 cm, we
encountered fragments of red pigment unlike that used
in normal wall surfacing. Closer inspection revealed that
the pigment came from a break in a crust of hardened
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Burger and Salazar-Burger: A sacred effigy from Mina Perdida 35
Figure 5. Cleared back stone terrace wall with excavated layers
of eroded construction materials and refuse on viewer’s left.
Note the location of the hand of the anthropomorphic effigy
beneath the thick layer of this material. Photo: Richard Burger.
clayey soil mixed with leaves. Careful removal of a
portion of this 20-cm-thick clayey layer exposed the
remains of a hand modeled in unbaked clay and painted
with red and white pigments (fig. 5). The first hand
unearthed was impressive, with each well-preserved
Figure 6. The hand of the effigy beneath the layer of clayey
soil that sealed it. Photo: Richard Burger.
finger measuring some 4 cm in length and a cordage
bracelet encircling the wrist (fig. 6). Further excavation
revealed that the hand was part of a large
anthropomorphic figure, and more work revealed the
presence of another hand, the outline of a gourd body,
lower limbs, and eventually a head that faced
downwards (fig. 7). Only the hair on the back of the
figure’s head was visible at this point. The body of the
figure was wrapped in a white and brown cotton textile;
judging from its position, this cloth may have constituted
the figure’s dress. The layer of clayey soil had completely
covered the figure, sealing it and protecting it from
subsequent deposits of refuse and collapsed
construction materials. Clayey clumps had been
deposited around the figure while they were still wet,
and impressions of the leaves and other organic
materials were left within the clumps and on the clay
layer’s upper surface.
The effigy had been deposited on a thick layer of
refuse that covered the floor of the terrace. The figure
had been placed face down with its head towards the
nearby adjacent terrace and its body perpendicular to
the terrace walls. It was oriented NE-SW, in
correspondence with the site’s axis (fig. 8). Closer
examination indicated that the arms, legs, and head of
Figure 7. Partially excavated effigy in situ. Photo: Richard
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36 RES 33 SPRING 1998
42 cm from the back wall of the terrace (M-106). Thus the
location of the effigy can be described as the corner of
one of the upper terraces adjacent to the rear staircase.
As noted, the terrace had been shrouded by a thick
layer of eroded construction materials. This covered a
layer of refuse, which in turn covered the clayey layer
encasing the anthropomorphic effigy (fig 9). The refuse
thrown on to the terrace included peanuts, squash rind,
l?cuma (L?cuma b?fera) skin, pacae (Inga Feuillei) fruit
and leaves, fibers of braided junco (Scirpus sp.), the
leaves of pajaro bobo (Cypreus sp.), the stalks and roots
of carrizo (Pragmites communis), several types of shell
(pique [Crepitpatella sp.], mussels [Choro mytilus],
clams [Argopecten purpuratus]), burnt wood
PV 48-117
fragments, and human coprolites. This mix is typical of
) 10 20 30 on
the well-preserved refuse on the pyramid’s back terraces
and it on
is especially
similar to that encountered on the
Figure 8. Drawing showing location of effigy
the back
same terrace to the east of the rear staircase. The refuse
terrace. Drawing: Bernadino Ojeda and Richard Burger
layer, which both underlies and covers the effigy, differs
markedly from the stratum of eroded construction
materials above it. The terrace floor above which the
figure had been placed showed no special preparation
and approximately 30 cm of refuse had already
accumulated on the terrace floor before the effigy was
deposited. It is likely that the refuse layer derives from
feasting activities on the summit since the terrace is
adjacent to, but 4 m below, the leveled summit area.
The presence of fragments of hammered copper sheet in
other terrace refuse deposits strengthens our
hypothesis of a summit origin for the garbage, since
such fragments of copper sheet were only found in situ
on the summit floors.
It is easy to understand why the terracing might
have been viewed as a convenient place for refuse
Figure 9. Profile showing the stratigraphie position of the
effigy. (1) unconsolidated stone, miscellaneous building
materials and earth, (2) terrace floor, (3) collapsed wall fill, (4)
refuse, (5) plastered masonry terrace wall, (6) clumps of clayey
soil, (7) anthropomorphic effigy. Drawing: Richard Burger and
Rosemary Volpe.
disposal from the top of the pyramid. The area is far
closer to the summit and more convenient than the
flatland below. Moreover, the terrace surfaces would
not have been visible either from the summit or from
the rear staircase itself, nor would they have been
evident from the level land behind the central
pyramid. Finally, the back terraces do not seem to
have been the focus of formal ceremonial activity and
thus apparently were not subject to the conventions of
sacred cleanliness that characterized many of the
summit environments. A similar contrast between
the figure were independent pieces, attached to the
gourd body by cordage. As found in situ, the figure had
its arms raised on either side of its head and its legs
extending from its body; this position and subsequent
observations permit the inference that the figure was
accumulations on the adjacent terracing was
buried fully articulated. It lies 1.4 m to the east of the wall
that defined the western exterior of the staircase (M-105),
encountered at Huaricoto during the late Initial Period
(Burger and Salazar-Burger 1985).
ritual cleanliness on the platform and refuse
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Burger and Salazar-Burger: A sacred effigy from Mina Perdida 37
In order to protect the fragile anthropomorphic effigy,
we did not attempt to fully uncover it in situ. On the day
following the figure’s discovery, a protective cocoon was
created to facilitate its transport to a laboratory setting
where it could be extracted from the clayey matrix and
then conserved. The exposed portion of the effigy was
initially covered with Japanese rice paper, and then with
a layer of river sand; finally a layer of aluminum foil was
added to immobilize it. It was then wrapped in surgical
bandages and encased with plaster. By the time this
process was completed the entire block weighed
approximately 35 kilograms. It was transported to the
Museo de la Naci?n in Lima where Alison Salazar,
under the supervision of Victor Chang, spent the next
two years removing the effigy from the block,
conserving it, and preparing it for display.
The body of the Mina Perdida anthropomorphic effigy
is made from a large bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria),
and it was possible to directly date the object by
analyzing one of the seeds of the bottle gourd that had
remained stuck to its interior. The resulting calibrated
AMS radiocarbon measurement was 3030?50 b.p. (Beta
100302). When calibrated, this corresponds to a 2 sigma
range (95% probability) of 1405-1120 b.c. This date falls
squarely in the late Initial Period.
Figure 10. Crushed head of the effigy prior to conservation
and restoration. 18×13 cm. Photo: Richard Burger.
consistent with our inference that the use of the
terrace was contemporary with the activities on the
summit and they demonstrate that the anthropomorphic
effigy was produced while Mina Perdida’s summit was in
active use.
The result of the direct dating of the figure is
consistent with other lines of evidence. The stone terrace
on which the effigy had been placed was part of a late
refurbishment of this portion of the monument; earlier
back terraces can be inferred to exist buried behind
these masonry retaining walls. Throughout the site, the
final centuries of construction are characterized by
coarse masonry walls, rather than ones of cubical
adobes, and the resultant C14 date is roughly
contemporary with these late structures elsewhere on
the site. Moreover, excavations indicated that the back
terrace in question functioned in conjunction with the
rear staircase already mentioned and, by extension, the
colonnaded environments on the pyramid’s summit.
Four radiocarbon measurements were made on samples
from a series of superimposed summit floors that had
been hypothesized as coeval with the staircase and
adjacent back terraces. These yielded the following
uncalibrated dates: 3120?130 b.p. (1-17, 973), 3100?100
(1-17, 974), 3020?100 (1-17, 975), and 3000?40
(Beta-80345). As can be seen, these results are
Condition of the effigy
At the time of its recovery, the effigy was in generally
good condition, but it had been affected by the weight
of materials above it. The face had been crushed and,
although most of it was intact, it was initially difficult to
see its eyes and a portion of the right side of the head
was badly damaged (fig. 10). Fortunately, it was
possible, using standard restoration techniques, to return
the head to its original form and to prevent the surface
from flaking. One finger had broken off the left hand,
but its original position was self-evident and the
separated fragment was restored without difficulty. In
some areas, the fragile surface paint required
consolidation. Because of the unusually good condition
of the figure it is possible to talk about its appearance
and coloration with confidence. All descriptions offered
here are based on observations made on the unrestored
portions of the effigy. Color terms are taken from Munsell
Soil Color Charts (Munsell Color Company 1960).
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38 RES 33 SPRING 1998
Description of the effigy
The entire object when first assembled would have
measured approximately 73 cm (2 feet 4 inches) from
top to bottom. The figure is strongly anthropomorphic,
although the form of the eyes and fangs suggest the
figure’s supernatural character. The lower 13 cm of the
object was wrapped in cotton cordage to serve as a
handle and consequently the anthropomorphic effigy
alone measures about 60 cm (2 feet) from the top of its
head to the bottom of its feet (figs. 11-12). The striking
appearance of the effigy was achieved by modeling and
polychrome painting. Black, red, pink, yellow, cream,
and white slip paints were applied selectively to the
unpigmented brown slip that covered the head, body,
and limbs of the figure. The use of pigmented clay slip
to show details such as face painting and fingernails
makes the effigy particularly vivid in its appearance. The
figure was further brought to life by the use of cordage
for the effigy’s nose ring, bracelets, and anklets. The
figure’s hair was made of actual hair, and a distinctively
light fiber was used for its topknot. Finally, the figure
was dressed with a mantle of simple woven textile of
white and brown cotton.
The effigy is finished on all sides and was designed to
be seen from multiple perspectives. The nature of its
construction using independent articulating arms and
legs would have permitted movement of the effigy and
even when static, the position of the figure could have
been varied. At the time of its discovery, the figure had
its arms held up alongside the head with its palms
facing outwards. The legs were flexed and positioned
with the feet facing sideways.
Because of the unique nature of the effigy, a
description of the evidence concerning its manufacture
is particularly worthwhile. While the figure would have
originally appeared as a single object to the viewer, it
actually consisted of six main components: (a) a hollow
head, (b) a hollow gourd-body, the lower section of
which was modified to serve as a handle, (c) two solid
arms, and (d) two solid legs. The head, arms, and legs
were independent pieces that were attached to the
gourd body by a series of strings that passed through the
circular holes that had been cut or drilled in the gourd
body. They were presumably secured by knots (invisible
to the viewer) in the gourd’s interior. Each of the arms
was secured with three strings and each leg with two
strings; judging from the holes, eight strings secured the
connection of the head, which was fitted over the top of
the gourd. Not only can cotton cordage still be seen
emerging from the arms, legs, and head, but remnants of
the string passing through the gourd are still present in
some of the holes. Along with the position of the effigy,
this constitutes strong evidence that the object was
intact at the time of its burial. In addition, the effigy was
wrapped in a white and brown cotton textile, which
apparently served as a loose mantlelike outer garment.
In order to better appreciate the details of the effigy
and how it was made, each one of its parts will be
described separately. However, first a few words about
the colors utilized are in order. As noted, seven colors
are present on the figure (see Table 1), most of which
were used on its face. According to the Munsell system
of color classification, there are two shades of “light
red.” These are easily distinguished: a darker, stronger
red one which was used on the lips, hair ornament,
Color Munsell Code
Portion of Effigy
Light red 7.5R 6/8 Zone below mouth
Light red 10R 6/6 White part of eyeball
Light red 10R 6/8 Facial striping and hair band
Pale yellow 5Y 8/4 Teeth
Yellow 7.5YR 7/6
Facial striping
Very pale brown 10YR Face
Black 2.5Y N2/
Eye outline and pupil
Light red 10R
of body (right side)
Light red 10R
of body (left side), legs and arms
Very pale brown 10YR
Back of body,
legs and arms
White 10YR 8/2
Fingernails and toenails
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Burger and Salazar-Burger: A sacred effigy from Mina Perdida 39
facial crests, and body and a lighter one which was used
in the eyes and beneath the mouth. Similarly, there are
two shades of yellow: a strong yellow was used in the
face painting and a creamy “light yellow” used on the
fangs. A true white was employed for the fingernails and
toenails, and black pigment was used to highlight the
form and details of the eyes. There is some variability in
the shades of each color in different parts of the effigy,
and even the coat of red painted on the gourd body
shows some variation (10R6/6 to 10R6/8).
The body (fig. 11)
A large bottle gourd identified as Lagenaria siceraria
by paleobotanist Deborah Pearsall (pers. comm., 1997)
was used as the body of the effigy. The entire gourd
measures 55 cm in length. This gourd is widest at its top
where it reaches 11 cm in diameter. Similar gourds are
grown today in Casma for use as containers rather than
for food, and special care is given to achieve the desired
shape (Victor Chang, pers. comm., 1996). Its unusually
large, straight, elongated form is probably due to a
combination of genetic factors that were selected for
and cultivation practices that had been developed to
influence the shape of the gourd (Deborah Pearsall,
pers. comm., 1997). The gourd tapers naturally to a
diameter of 2 cm, at which point its end was removed
by transverse cutting.
This comparatively narrow lower section fits
comfortably in one’s hand and can easily be held. This
was appreciated by the effigy’s creators, and this section
of the gourd was converted into a handle for the figure.
Except for the final 0.5 cm, the lower 13 cm of the
gourd is tightly wrapped with white cotton string. Like
the grip on a tennis racket, this wrapping appears to
constitute the intentional creation of a handle suitable
Figure 11. Bottle-gourd-body of effigy; note cotton handle and
holes drilled for connection of arms. 55 x 11 cm. Photo:
Richard Burger.
for holding or positioning the effigy figure. It also serves
to visually identify this lower section of the gourd as
separate from the supernatural representation.
The entire gourd was covered with a very pale brown
wash. We interpret this light brown color as representing
the natural body color of the figure represented. An
additional coat of light red paint was applied to the front
As will be seen, the division of the gourd-body into
two zones, a light brown “natural” one and a light red
painted one, extends to the figure’s arms and legs. On
the body, as in those parts, the dividing line between the
colored and unpigmented zones of the gourd-body is
not perfectly straight. The gourd itself is only 5 mm thick
half of the gourd-body. We interpret this thin pigmented
layer as a representation of the figure’s body paint.
Significantly, the light red pigment did not extend to the
and the layers of unpigmented clay slip and red paint
are extremely thin, except close to where the head once
uppermost 4 cm of the gourd, which would have been
completely covered by the head. The back half of the
body was left with only the very pale brown slip.
with some fiber, as if to smooth the linkage between the
gourd-body and the modeled head placed on it.
attached. Near this juncture, the clay thickens and is mixed
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40 RES 33 SPRING 1998
A straight vertical cut was made through the back of
the gourd body and almost all its contents were
removed. Out of several hundred seeds, only about
thirty remained adhering to the insides of the Lagenaria
fruit. The hollowing out of the gourd would have
facilitated the fastening of legs, arms, and head to the
body. The cut begins 11 cm below the top of the gourd
and the opening continues for 14 cm. This narrow cleft
was subsequently closed by the pressure created by
wrapping of the bottom portion of the gourd and then
sealed by the application of additional very light brown
slip. After the effigy’s burial, the gourd-body opened up
again under the weight of the overburden.
Besides the painting and cutting of the gourd, the
most conspicuous modifications are the small holes cut
into it for the attachment of the head and limbs (fig. 12).
The holes are generally 3 mm in diameter, but in several
instances, a hole is enlarged by making a second hole
contiguous with it so that the total diameter approaches
8 mm. These minor modifications appear to have been
made in response to the difficulty in threading the
connecting cordage through the gourd-body. A
horizontal line of four holes encircles the gourd 2 cm
below its top; a second line of four drilled holes occurs
1 cm below the first row. These holes were created to
secure the head.
Vertical lines of three holes for attaching the arms
appear on the two sides of the gourd within the light
brown zone just beyond the red section; on one side of
the gourd these begin 7.2 cm below the top, while on
the other at 5 cm beneath it. This difference presumably
reflects the slightly asymmetrical shape of the natural
gourd. A piece of white cotton cordage was recovered
from one of these holes. Vertical lines of two holes
occur further down on both sides of the gourd still near
the edge of the very pale brown zone. These holes were
created for attaching the legs and begin 23 cm below
the top of one side and 20.5 cm below it on the other.
Brown string was found in one of these holes. It is
interesting that two holes were utilized to attach the legs
while three were employed for the somewhat larger
arms. The importance of the head is reflected in the
eight holes made for its connection. It should also be
noted that in the spots where the arms and legs were
attached, the body’s brown clay slip is largely missing.
We interpret this as being the result of wear from the
movement of the articulating arms and legs. If this
interpretation is accepted, it implies both that the figure
was used before it was buried and that the articulating
Figure 13. Closeup of head of the effigy. Photo: Richard Burger.
limbs actually did move when the figure was being
utilized. Finally, it should be noted that no effort was
made to represent primary or secondary sexual
characteristics on the body, so there is no indication of
the biological sex of the effigy.
The head (fig. 13)
This component is light and hollow, like the head of a
papier-m?ch? puppet. Its 4-mm-thick shell was shaped
from what appears to be a mixture of clayey matrix and
some type of natural fiber. It is possible that the back of
the head has opened up with time; if the two sides of the
back of the head were originally joined (rather than
hidden by hair), the shape of the face would be narrower
than it appears in the photographs published with this
article. Unlike the body, both the front and back of the
head are slipped only with pale brown clayey wash. This
neutral tone is brought to life by painting and modeling in
high relief. The naturally modeled anthropomorphic face
features a broad nose, a prominent brow, and a weak chin.
Special care was given to naturalistically shaping the
effigy’s flared nose and wrinkled brow. The nose is 4.5
cm wide, and two oval holes were opened to represent
nostrils. A plain nose ornament of light colored string is
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Burger and Salazar-Burger: A sacred effigy from Mina Perdida 41
significant that the right eye is slightly larger than the left
eye (the difference is 3 mm in both width and height).
This slight asymmetry also applies to the arms and legs;
in all cases, the right side is slightly larger than the left.
Since all human bodies are slightly asymmetric, these
subtle differences may be viewed as additional evidence
of a naturalistic representational intention. In later
Andean cosmology, differences in the size of eyes or
arms were seen as reflecting the larger universal
principle of “dual complementarity or dynamic
dualism” (Platt 1986, see also Burger and Salazar
Burger 1994).
^mt> 11 i^H
The mouth of the figure has a prominent upper lip (9
mm in width), which is shown in high relief. From this
upper lip, six large caninelike fangs protrude; they
overlap and hide much of the lower lip (which measures
7 mm in width). The teeth hang freely from the upper lip
and are connected to the head at the upper extreme. No
other teeth are represented. Of the effigy’s six fangs, four
Figure 14. Head of the effigy in profile; note facial crests.
Photo: Richard Burger.
looped through the nostrils and tied in front of the
septum. This simple fiber nose ring is unprecedented for
the Initial Period, but more elaborate nose ornaments of
hammered gold were utilized many centuries later by
elite members of Chavin society (see Alva 1992:pls.
14-19, 21, 23-25, 27-29, 54-55).
There are four deep vertical wrinkles above the nose
between the effigy’s eyes. This feature is a characteristic
known from Initial Period and Early Horizon religious
iconography. It has been associated by scholars with
felines and expressions of aggression in general (see Roe
1974). In contrast to the naturalistic modeling used to
represent the nose and furrowed brow, the ears are not
emphasized. Their existence and general shape is
suggested by low modeling, but no internal detail is
shown. The only well-preserved ear is the proper left
one, and it is 4.5 cm long and 1.6 cm wide.
The eyes of the effigy are painted rather than
are complete. These are the same size and measure 2.6
cm in length. They also have the same basic form, with
one side curved and the other straight. All of them taper
to a point.
The fanged mouth of the Mina Perdida effigy is not in
any way anomalous given the time of its creation and
the place in which it was found. The shape of the fangs
and their position in relation to the lower lips resemble
other examples of portable and public iconography from
the Central Coast that date to the late Initial Period. At
first glance, the six massive incisors on the effigy seem
extraordinarily prominent; this impression is due to the
fact that during this time period most known
representations of supernatural visages are in profile. In
the Garagay Mound B frieze and many of the ceramic
representations, these profile representations feature
three enlarged upper incisors; if these faces were
represented frontally, they would have six incisors as is
the case of the Mina Perdida effigy. A small damaged
“plaster” face recovered from a fill at Garagay (Ravines
and Isbell 1976:pl. 27) appears to have had a mouth
with six large fangs; it offers the closest analogue to the
mouth treatment of the Mina Perdida effigy.
modeled, and their hemispherical form is outlined by an
uneven black line, which varies from 2-3 mm in width.
The area beneath the mouth is painted light red,
perhaps to represent blood running down from it. Some
The same black color is used for the pupils of the eyes.
The normally white portion of the eyes is painted pink
(technically light red). Hemispherical “eccentric” irises
hang from the upper center of each eye; no distinction is
made between the iris and the pupil. It may be
of the most interesting features of the face are the two
red and white vertical crests that project outwards
perpendicular to the facial plane (fig. 14). One of them
projects from the center of the forehead, while the other
emerges from the center of the chin. The upper crest is
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42 RES 33 SPRING 1998
about 25 percent larger than the lower one and it
projects 2 cm farther from the face. The upper crest or
comb measures 4.2 cm in length with a thickness of
only 3 mm. Both crests are white, but they have
scalloped edges that are highlighted by a light red band
on each. Such crests were rarely, if ever, represented in
coeval art styles, and it is a challenge to link them to
elements in nature.
The very pale light brown face of the effigy is
ornamented with painting in the form of four diagonal
bands. These bands vary in width from 1.2-1.4 cm. The
The most likely source of inspiration for these crests
is the very large vulture known as the Andean condor
(Vultur gryphus). The adult male condor is characterized
by a prominent comb-caruncle extending from the cere
to the middle of the crown and a second crestlike
Like the crests, this facial banding appears to have its
inspiration in the markings of Andean birds. As Eugenio
Yacovleff observed in his 1932 article “Las Falc?nidas en
wattle or dewlap hanging from the center of its chin
(Blake 1977:263; Brown and Amadon
1968:1:190-192). The adult female condor lacks the
comblike caruncle. The Andean condor illustrated by
Raymond Gilmore in his classic Handbook of South
American Indians article has a bicolor crest that
resembles the Mina Perdida crests in terms of its
location, form, and bicolor banding (Gilmore
1950:390, pi. 46). It may also be significant that the
bare skin of an adult male condor is said to be reddish
(Blake 1977:263), reminiscent of the body paint applied
to the Mina Perdida effigy. Although the huge Andean
condors favor highland habitats, they are seen along the
coast and the neighboring hills covered with fog
vegetation. The condors descend to the Peruvian coast
to pray on rookeries, and they return to the highlands to
roost and to nest (Brown and Amadon 1968:1:292).
Among human populations, perhaps the closest
analogue to the “crests” on the effigy are the facial
ornaments used in some Amazonian cultures. These are
attached to the face either by adhesives or piercing. The
lower “crest” on the face of the Mina Perdida figure is
positioned in a location often decorated through the use
of lip plugs or labrets. Among contemporary peoples of
the Amazon and Orinoco, decorative lip plugs of wood or
other materials are worn as ornaments through a hole
pierced in the lower lip. Lip plugs and labrets have a long
history and were widely used in pre-Columbian times,
although they have not been documented previously for
the Initial Period. Among traditional tropical forest groups,
these body ornaments are frequently worn in imitation of
birds. Labrets made of feathers are still worn on
ceremonial occasions by members of some groups, such
as the men of the Urub?-Kaapor tribe who use a labret of
macaw and hummingbird feathers during their name
giving ceremonies (Roe 1995a:92, fig. 138).
two upper bands are light red and they emerge from the
top of the forehead “crest” and continue to the area of
the ears. The two lower bands are yellow, and they
begin at the vertically wrinkled brow between the eyes
and run down across the lower cheek.
el Arte y en las Creencias de los Antiguos Peruanos,”
facial banding was commonly shown in the art of many
ancient Peruvian cultures. These distinctive markings
appear both on naturalistic representations of birds and
as facial painting on humans and anthropomorphic
supernaturals. Yacovleff convincingly argued that the
source of these bands was the natural marking of hawks.
Most contemporary scholars have followed him in this
assessment (see Rowe 1967:82). Yacovleff’s review of
contemporary bird populations from Andean South
America suggested that the closest parallels for such
markings may be the Aplomado falcon (Falco femoralis)
and the osprey (Pandion haliaetus carolinensis). The
Aplomado falcon is a medium-sized bird of prey that
eats birds, lizards, and mammals, while the osprey is a
large, fish-eating hawk habitually associated with water.
Both birds have prominent facial banding and are
common along the Peruvian coast (Blake
1977:272-273, fig. 33), and Yacovleff concluded that
both served as models for ancient art, the osprey in the
case of the Moche culture and the Aplomado falcon in
the case of the Nazca culture (1932:46-48, 62-66). The
major difference between the facial banding of the two
birds is that the Aplomado falcon has two dark bands,
one behind and one beneath the eye, while the osprey
has a single broad band extending from behind the eye
(Blake 1977:378-379; Brown and Amadon 1968: 2:816,
826). In a detailed drawing of an Aplomado falcon head
in profile, Yacovleff illustrates how the two bands of this
raptor sometimes appear parallel to each other (1932:
fig. 2, upper right).
Comparisons with the bands on the effigy from Mina
Perdida indicate that the Aplomada falcon is the likely
source for the banding. In this case, the colored bands
probably represent facial paint applied to evoke the
qualities of this graceful, though ferocious, bird. This
conclusion is strengthened by a consideration of an
incised clay sculpture decorating a pilaster on the
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Burger and Salazar-Burger: A sacred effigy from Mina Perdida 43
summit of Mound A at Garagay (fig. 16); this frieze is
roughly contemporary with the Mina Peridida effigy. The
Garagay sculpture depicts an anthropomorphic face in
profile that has two facial bands analogous to those on
the Mina Perdida figure. However, attached to the front
of the face in place of the nose is a profile rendition of a
bird head, complete with recurved raptorial beak and
dual eye bands; a distinctive raptor talon abuts the back
of this face. It can be argued that these avian
appendages unambiguously identify the hawklike
attributes of the anthropomorphic supernatural with the
facial banding. The two adjacent pilasters that depict
anthropomorphic faces without the eye bands also lack
the avian beak and talon as appendages (cf. Ravines
1984:37, figs. 20-22). Thus these late-Initial Period
Mound A sculptures can be seen as providing
independent confirmation of Yacovleff’s interpretation of
the raptorial source for eye bands.
The anthropomorphic effigy from Mina Perdida has a
particularly elaborate coiffure. The hair is a medium
brown shade, but it is likely that its tone has changed
from a naturally darker color since its burial. Laboratory
analysis by Dr. H. Wayne Carver, II, Chief Medical
Examiner of Connecticut, has demonstrated that actual
human hair was used to produce the figure’s hairstyle.
According to Carver, the hair is round, relatively large,
straight, and has a heavily pigmented medulla. Not
surprisingly, this type of human hair is indicative of
Asian genetic origin as would have been found among
indigenous peoples in the Americas prior to European
contact (H. Wayne Carver, II, pers. comm., 1998). The
hair seems to have been parted in the middle; it is fairly
long (8.5 cm) and ends just above the ears. It continues
around the back of the effigy’s head. A light red hair
band binds the top of the hairdo and from it emerges a
thick tuft of light brown fiber that is 1.2 cm high and
The arms
These upper limbs, like the lower limbs, are solid
rather than hollow. Their fabrication differed
significantly from the figure’s head, although many of
the same materials were utilized. Judging from a cross
section visible at the end of the right arm, the form of
the arm was shaped around a central core of clayey
matrix and fiber; this, in turn, was wrapped with light
tan cordage to add volume and strength to the piece.
This composite was covered by a clayey admixture that
>’< I f.:^!I :S >m
6.2 cm wide. According to Carver’s analysis, this fiber is
hair that is relatively fine, tapered, and curly, with
banded pigmentation; while such characteristics are not
found in human beings, they can be present among
rodents (H. Wayne Carver, II, pers. comm., 1998).
Additional technical analyses are planned to determine
the source of this animal hair. Great effort was
expended to produce this distinctive topknot hairstyle
judging from the careful attachment of the hair and the
tuft to the red hairband. Considering the care with
which this hairstyle was fashioned, it is safe to assume
that this coiffure must have been an important and
meaningful feature of the supernatural figure.
Figure 15. Back of anthropomorphic effigy. 73 x 33 cm. Photo:
Richard Burger.
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44 RES 33 SPRING 1998
was shaped to represent the form of an anthropomorphic
arm. Finally, the arm was covered with a thin layer of
fine brown slip. The front portions of the arms (and
hands) were then painted red, just as described for the
body. The fingers were produced in basically the same
way, and one damaged finger reveals the otherwise
hidden cordage wrapped around a solid core. The
backs of the arms and hands were left light brown, but
large nails are shown with white paint on all of the
fingers (fig. 15).
Both wrists of the figure are adorned with cordage
bracelets. These ornaments are formed by wrapping the
string around the effigy’s wrists over a dozen times, and
then ending each with a simple knot. The string used in
the wrist bands was made by spinning two pieces of
unpigmented two-ply cord. The widths of the bracelets
are 2 cm on the right arm and 2.2 cm on the left arm.
Although wrist ornaments were depicted on Chav?n de
Huantar’s main cult object, known as the Lanz?n, and
on other late-Initial Period sculptures, the materials of
the bracelets represented remained unknown (e.g.,
Burger 1992:figs. 125, 139, 140, 162). Analogous wrist
ornaments appear on arachnid supernatural and other
figures in the Cupisnique iconography of Peru’s north
coast during the late-Initial Period and Early Horizon
(Burger 1992:fig. 182; Salazar-Burger and Burger 1983).
Scholars assumed that some of the Early Horizon
bracelets were made of hammered gold, but it has not
been suggested in the published literature that such
costume elements might have been made of cordage,
despite the widespread use of fiber cuffs (or bracelets)
by contemporary cultures in the Orinoco and
Amazonian drainages (Roe 1995a:96, fig. 153). The
Mina Perdida figure strongly suggests this likelihood for
some cultures of the Initial Period. This hypothesis is
consistent with the Initial Period depiction of a
horizontal crease in the well-preserved ankle band on
the anthropomorphic “warrior” on the summit frieze of
Mound A at Garagay (Burger 1992:65-66, fig. 45). It
also has antecedents in the cord bracelets found on two
children buried on the central coast at the Middle
Preceramic site of Paloma (Quilter 1989:41).
As noted, the arms and hands of the Mina Perdida
effigy were naturalistically modeled on the human form,
and it is this nuanced shaping of the limbs that conveys
an impression of depth and naturalism. Some sense of
anunderlying skeletal structure is conveyed by the slight
projection of the elbow. The presence of musculature is
reflected in the enlarged biceps on both arms. In reality
both the arms and the hands are unnaturally flat, only
1-1.2 cm in thickness. The right arm is slightly larger
than the left, measuring 16.5 cm from tip of the mid
finger to the end of the limb. Both arms thicken at their
extreme, and strings emerge at this point from the core
of the arms to be threaded into the holes in the gourd
body. Cords of both brown and white cotton were used
for these connecting strings.
Perhaps the most impressive features of the upper
limbs are the hands. The fingers are disproportionately
long (3.8-4 cm), and the white painted nails extend
more than halfway down the back of each finger. Unlike
the convention in Chavin art, no distinction in length or
thickness is made between the five fingers. The hands
are spread open, but no details were inscribed on the
palms themselves. The fingers are spread widely apart
and bent backwards in an unnatural and uncomfortable
position. This suggests a specific gesture, possibly of
symbolic significance. It is known that hand and body
position was used to convey religious meaning during
the late Initial Period (Burger 1992:149-150), and it is
likely that the pose of the Mina Perdida anthropomorphic
effigy is equally meaningful, albeit somewhat more
difficult to interpret than that of the Lanz?n.
Nevertheless, it is intriguing that the upraised, flexed
arms with outspread hands of the Mina Perdida figure
are paralleled by some other examples of Formative
iconography, such as on one Chavin-Qotopukyo-style
bottle from the Ofrendas Gallery at Chavin de Huantar
(Burger 1992:139, fig. 134). It is interesting, given the
ability to model naturalistically, that no effort was made
to represent the joints of the fingers (or toes). This
selective realism at Mina Perdida, as elsewhere, probably
reflects a thought system in which different parts of the
body carry differing ideological significance and weight.
The legs
The lower limbs were produced in the same manner
as the upper limbs. However, they are significantly
smaller than the arms. The feet, for example, are only 60
percent the size of the hands. Although also flexed, the
position of the legs differs from that of the arms. The feet
face sideways rather than frontally, and the flexed
position of the legs suggests movement. This impression
is reinforced by the naturalistically arched feet.
Interestingly, differences between the toes are shown;
the two outer toes are roughly a third smaller than the
big toe. The treatment of the toes and the rest of the feet
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Burger and Salazar-Burger: A sacred effigy from Mina Perdida 45
is distinctively human (H. Wayne Carver, II, pers.
comm., 1998) and much more natural than that of the
Period. Similar textile garments were found on
analogous but smaller effigy figures from Garagay
hands. The musculature of the thighs, the bony
protuberance at the knees, and the carefully represented
(Ravines and Isbell 1976:pls. 28-30).
heels of the feet all reflect a tradition of realistic
modeling that developed during the second millennium
b.c. Some of the sculpted clay friezes at Moxeke in
Exploring the meaning of the Mina Perdida effigy
The way in which the Mina Perdida figure was
Casma and Garagay in Rimac show an equally
utilized and its meaning for the members of the Initial
sophisticated knowledge of human anatomy and the
ability to represent anatomy in relief on the public
buildings (Burger 1992:figs. 45, 56). In the
archaeological literature, these qualities of Initial Period
art on the coast have generally received less attention
than the more conventionalized styles that decorate
most stone sculpture and ceramic vessels, as well as
Period society will never be known in any detail or with
any certainty. Nevertheless, the foregoing description of
some adobe friezes.
the formal features of the anthropomorphic effigy from
Mina Perdida provides some clues to understanding its
significance and function. The archaeological context in
which it was recovered is also germane to a
consideration of its role. In addition, as in earlier
Perdida effigy as well as the front of its legs, while the
portions of this article, we employ analogies to the
practices and beliefs of traditional cultures in the
contemporary tropical forests of the Orinoco and
back of the legs and the top of the feet are left light
Amazonian watersheds. Such analogies, however
Red paint covers the soles of the feet of the Mina
brown. As in the case of the hands, the nails are
indicated with white paint. Unfortunately, the nails on
the right foot are damaged, but they are clearly visible
on the left foot, where each nail extends over nearly the
entire length of the toe. The ankles of the legs are
decorated with cordage cuffs that are 2.3 cm in width
and similar to those already described for the upper limbs.
imperfect, offer one of the few possible approaches to
the otherwise inaccessible realms of meaning and
cosmology. The controversial decision to use such
analogies reflects our belief that later prehistoric and
modern Andean and Amazonian cultures evolved out of
and diverged from a shared substratum of beliefs that
have been characterized by anthropologists as
shamanistic and animistic (see Burger 1992; Lathrap
1985; Roe 1982, 1995b:127-128). While no practice or
The textile
The Mina Perdida figure was discovered wrapped in a
rectangular piece of cloth. The textile appeared to be a
plain weave (2×1) fabric of two-ply white- and brown
colored cotton thread. Technical analysis has not yet
been carried out. Judging from its position in
archaeological context, the cloth acted as a loosely
fitting mantle for the anthropomorphic figure. It would
have covered much of the gourd-body, and presumably
it would have hidden the joints where the movable arms
and legs were fastened to the body. It would have also
shielded from view the section of the lower gourd
immediately below the figure’s legs; this portion of the
gourd would have confused the reading of the object.
When excavated, the cloth covered most of the gourd
body above the wrapped cotton handle. Judging from
the woven mantles worn by deceased males and
females in the Initial Period tombs at La Galgada
(Grieder et al. 1988:80-81), it is likely that the cloth in
which the Mina Perdida effigy was wrapped
corresponded to a basic garment worn during the Initial
belief of a contemporary Amazonian (or Andean) group
has remained unchanged, their historical connection
with these earlier religious traditions justifies considering
them in discussions such as this one.
As we have noted, the majority of the figure’s formal
characteristics are human. The shape of the limbs, the
number of digits on the hands and feet, the treatment of
the nails, the general body proportions, the absence of
body hair, the coiffure, and other elements all suggest a
strong anthropomorphic component for the figure.
However, this pattern should not be interpreted as
implying that the effigy represents a mortal man or
woman. It should be recalled that many of the
supernatural representations of the Chavin and other
“formative” art styles are strongly anthropomorphic; the
Lanz?n and the Raimondi Stone are well-known
examples (Burger 1992:figs. 140, 176).
From the accounts of Spanish chroniclers, it is known
that in much later times Inca artists frequently
represented their deities in human form. For example, in
1575 Cristobal de Molina (1943:39-40) described the
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46 RES 33 SPRING 1998
principal cult object at a shrine dedicated to the creator
god Wiracocha as “a statue of a man with a white tunic
reaching to his feet and hair to his waist.” According to
the same chronicler, at a critical moment in Inca
history the emperor Pachacuti is said to have had a
vision of the sun god in which the deity took the form of
a luminous man with snakes wrapped around his arms
and a puma on his back (Molina 1943:20-21). These
accounts by Molina have parallels in many other early
Spanish chronicles.
The historic descriptions of supernatural
representations used in late pre-Hispanic times suggest
the danger of assuming a human identity for the Mina
Perdida effigy simply because of its anthropomorphic
features. On the contrary, such features are consistent
with the representation of important supernatural beings
in the pre-Hispanic Andes. Moreover, the supernatural
character of the Mina Perdida effigy is signaled by
several distinctive features, all of which have been
identified previously by other investigators (Rowe 1967,
Burger 1992). Most conspicuous among these are the six
enormous fangs that project from the mouth, almost
obscuring the lower lip of the figure. Tello (1923)
associated prominent fangs of this kind with the jaguar.
John Rowe accepted that mouths with teeth bared and
long pointed canines overlapping the lips were probably
representations of the mouth of a snarling jaguar, but he
went on to suggest a more general interpretation for
these “cat mouths.” He wrote:
Perhaps the most reasonable of several possible alternative
explanations is that the cat mouth is used to distinguish
divine and mythological beings from ordinary creatures of
the world of nature, with the implication of a comparison
between the power of the jaguar and supernatural power.
Rowe 1967:80
It is worth noting that on the Mina Perdida effigy and,
more generally, in the Initial Period iconography of the
Central Coast, the fanged mouths represented in
religious ?mages usually feature a series of enlarged
upper incisors overlapping the lower lip, rather than the
interlocking fangs common in Chavin art. The mouths
featuring such incisors do not strongly resemble the “cat
mouths” of jaguars and other large felines in which the
canines are straighter, narrower, and interlocking.
Fanged mouths similar to that of the Mina Perdida effigy
appear at Chavin de Huantar on sculptures such as the
Tello Obelisk, and Donald Lathrap (1973) argued that
these mouths were inspired by the black cayman rather
than the jaguar. While it is difficult to specify the natural
source of inspiration for this artistic convention with
certainty, it does seem that, like the halo in Christian
iconography, the presence of fangs in the “formative” art
styles of Peru symbolized the sacred and awe-inspiring
power of the figures represented (Burger 1992:149-150).
This conclusion appears to be as true for the Initial
Period cultures of the Central Coast as for Chavin
culture in the northern highlands. At the late Initial
Period center of Garagay in the Rimac Valley, located 38
km north of Mina Perdida, rows of large upper incisors
grace the mouths of the arachnid supernatural that
were represented on the friezes decorating the atrium
walls (Salazar-Burger and Burger 1983; Burger 1992:
figs. 43-44). Excavators at the coeval fishing village of
Anc?n encountered a shallow bowl decorated with the
image of a supernatural with sea turtle attributes; the
mouth of the supernatural turtle featured enlarged upper
incisors similar to those at Garagay and Mina Perdida
(Burger 1992:66). In the Lurin Valley, at the late-Initial
Period U-shaped monumental complex of Cardal, the
outer walls of the Middle Temple’s atrium were
decorated with an enormous polychrome mouth band
with prominent upper incisors (Burger 1992:52).
Significantly, the fanged mouth band at Cardal was used
alone to frame the entrance into the built environment
in which some of the temple’s most important
ceremonies were carried out. The variety of contexts on
the Central Coast in which a mouth dominated by
enlarged upper incisors was used is consistent with a
generalized meaning of sacred, awe-inspiring power
rather than specific jaguar or other feline associations.
This is of special relevance here because such an
interpretation points to the supernatural character of the
Mina Perdida effigy.
However, the features that the Mina Perdida effigy
may share with the feline are not limited to the mouth.
The distinctively furrowed brow of the figure echoes the
wrinkles above the snout of the jaguar or puma when it
is provoked.
The hemispherical form of the eyes also may be
indicative of the figure’s supernatural associations. This
eye shape does not resemble either that of humans or
felines, and it may indicate the nonhuman character of
the individual being represented. The eccentric or off
center iris near the top of the eye rather than at its
center is likewise unnatural. The eccentric pupil may
have been chosen as a natural symbol for contact with
other realms of experience. Among shamans, claims are
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Burger and Salazar-Burger: A sacred effigy from Mina Perdida 47
often made of “seeing” other worlds and thus the need
of changing the way one sees. In one account of the
process of becoming a Siberian shaman reported by
Mircea Eliade (1964:42), we are told: “He changed his
eyes; and that is why, when he shamanizes, he does not
see with his bodily eyes but with these mystical eyes.”
Other clues to the significance of the figure from
Mina Perdida can be found in its bodily adornment. As
already noted, the front of the Mina Perdida figure’s
body, including its torso, arms, and legs, is painted solid
red. This is not surprising considering that the painting of
the body and face was practiced in antiquity in much of
South America, including the Andes. In more modern
times this practice has become largely restricted to the
tropical forest. Among theTukana of Colombia, the
supernatural to whom animals were subject (Vai-mahse,
Master of Animals) was conceptualized as a small man
with his body painted red (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1971:80).
The practice of painting the body red or black during
rites of passage remained common until recently in both
the Orinoco and Amazonian watersheds (cf., Reichel
Dolmatoff 1971 :143; Wagley 1977:129). The red color
was applied to the body by rubbing a combination of
fish oil and red colorant made from the seeds of the
urucu or annatto shrub (Bixa orellana) (Turner 1971:103;
Wagley 1977:129). A widespread current meaning
attributed to the red body paint in the Amazon is a
connotation of energy, health, swiftness, and heightened
sensitivity, and consequently it is applied to the forearms
and hands, lower legs and feet, and face (Turner
The Mina Perdida effigy’s face was decorated with
two sets of colored bands, a feature analogous to the
facial adornment still employed by many indigenous
peoples of the tropical forests of South America.
Ethnographers have noted that the geometric forms
employed in such decoration by both men and women
are frequently inspired by the markings of animals, such
as the jaguar or anaconda (Hugh-Jones 1979:201;
Reichel-Dolmatoff 1971:220-222; Turner 1971 ). As
already noted, Yacovleff identified facial banding on
many pre-Hispanic representations and argued that they
stood for “hawk markings.” While Yacovleff focused on
the cultures of the Early Intermediate Period and later
times, the “hawk markings” are also represented during
the Peruvian Formative and not limited to Chavin
sculpture. Examples of it appear, for example, on an
Early Horizon bone spatula from Huaura Valley (Roe
1974:fig. 6), on the north column adorning the portal
of Chavin de Huantar’s New Temple (Rowe 1967:82),
and on the late-Initial Period clay friezes of Garagay’s
Mound A (fig. 16).
^^ ^S^VHHh^^b^^^^^H^^HhSS^IIV^^hh^^^^^^H^^^^^^^^^^^^h^^^^^^^^^^^^hH?^^
^^^^B^^^^HH^^^^^^^HS^^^BI^^^^^^^^^^^S^^^^^HI^^Ih^^H^^^I^SaZ *
Figure 16. Initial Period low-relief clay frieze from Mound A at
Garagay, Rimac Valley. The avian motif shows the hawk facial
banding in conjunction with the beak and claws of a raptor. Photo:
Karen Stothert.
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48 RES 33 SPRING 1998
We have argued that the facial bands on the Mina
Perdida effigy are based on the natural markings of the
Aplomada falcon, while the two painted crests that
project from its forehead and chin imitate the caruncle
and wattle of the male Andean condor. The
incorporation of elements from both birds is
particularly intriguing since, as Yacovleff observed, “In
the artistic representations, as much as in the
chronicles, one essential thing is revealed: for the
ancient Peruvian there never existed confusion
between the species of the vultures with those of the
falcons”(1932:40). Inasmuch as both condor and
falcon elements are combined (along with feline and
human elements), it is clearly the intention of the
effigy’s creator to produce a representation that does
not correspond to anything in nature. On the contrary,
the supernatural figure is intentionally monstrous and
replete with multiple symbols and, presumably,
polyvalent meanings. The creation of hybrid
supernatural is well documented in Chavin religious
art, and the Mina Perdida effigy offers one of many
antecedents for this practice. Although the condor is a
carrion bird, it does take and kill small animals. The
Aplomada falcon likewise pounces on small animals,
including other birds. In summary, both the hawk and
the condor are formidable predatory creatures that eat
meat. They also both fly high above the earth, and it is
this “soaring” behavior that leads them to be so closely
associated with the celestial sphere in South American
How can we understand the meaning underlying
these nonhuman feline and avian attributes? If
exists based on ethnographic observations among
dozens of contemporary lowland cultures documenting
the belief that humans can enter into these other
worlds by zoomorphic transformation and soul
journeys via altered states of consciousness. The most
common transformations are into jaguars, the alter
egos of humans with shamanic powers, and into birds
of the upper canopy, whose ability to transcend the
earth through flight offers a metaphor for access to the
celestial world of the most powerful supernatural
forces. It is this general cosmological framework that
leads the members of so many cultures of the Orinoco
and Amazonian drainages to paint and decorate
themselves with emblems of jaguars and birds.
In addition, Peter Roe observes that for people
holding this shamanistic world view, joints become
analogized as portals into the body and consequently
must be defended by encircling body ornaments or
ligatures (Roe 1995a:84-86). If this perspective is
applicable to the Mina Perdida figure, the significance of
the cordage bracelets and anklets, like the facepaint and
facial crests, can be understood in terms of the
shamanistic world view that underlies much of
pre-Columbian thought, as well as a representation of
actual body adornment. The special cosmological
significance of joints has likewise been emphasized by
Urton (1996) in his analysis of Chavin art. A fascination
with the role of entry points into the human body also
suggests why the nonhuman elements are most prominent
at the two principal “portals of entry” into the body of
the Mina Perdida effigy: its eyes and its mouth. Even the
nostrils of the effigy are encircled by a fiber nosering.
contemporary tropical forest groups are heirs to an
ancient Amerindian tradition that once included the
Finally, the special significance of joints might be
peoples of what is now the Peruvian coast and
highlands, insight can still be gained by examining the
world view that leads these groups to continue to
consider these practices as meaningful and to still
reproduce them despite radical shifts in the
socioeconomic and political reality in which they live.
Numerous scholars such as Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff
(1975, 1978) and Peter Roe (1982, 1995a) have
observed that the Amerindians of lowland South
religious purposes.
One other feature worth noting in regard to the
America do not believe that the empirical world is the
only demonstrable reality, since altered states achieved
through the use of hallucinogenic drugs reveal the
existence of other realities behind that normally
perceptible in daily experience. A substantial literature
relevant to explaining the creation of a jointed effigy for
special identity of the figure is the treatment of its hair.
As described above, the figure’s hair is gathered at the
top of its head by a red hair band, and lighter brown
hair rises from this hair ornament almost like a topknot.
Interestingly, the tenon heads at Chavin de Huantar also
feature supernaturals with an unusual hair arrangement
resembling a sort of topknot, and this coiffure is shared
by the sculptured figures both in their human form and
in their transformed jaguar state (Burger 1992:157-159).
In the case of Chavin, these topknotted figures have
been interpreted as possible mythical prototypes for the
temple’s religious authorities. Considerable effort was
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Burger and Salazar-Burger: A sacred effigy from Mina Perdida 49
used to produce the distinctive hairstyle of the Mina
Perdida effigy, and its similarity to hairstyles represented
in Chavin religious sculpture reinforces the likelihood
that it helped to signal the special identity or status of
the effigy.
In summary, despite the prominent
anthropomorphic characteristics of the Mina Perdida
figure, it is likely that it represents a supernatural
personage. The jaguar and avian elements suggest the
figure’s involvement in shamanic transformation, and
it is possible that the Mina Perdida effigy represents a
mythical ancestor who now occupies the celestial
world. If analogy with Chavin iconography holds, the
distinctive topknot hair arrangement may signal
someone who can transform into feline and avian
forms to contact the supernatural realm. The
dominance of anthropomorphic features on the effigy,
in contrast to the supernatural images on the friezes at
Garagay and Cardal, are consistent with such an
interpretation. If a mythical ancestor is being
represented by the figure, the flexed position of its
arms and legs suggests that the ancestor remained an
active, dynamic force symbolically leaping from the
celestial world into the reality of this world.
In attempting to wrestle with the difficult, but
fundamental issue of meaning, it is worth
contemplating the use of the bottle gourd (Lagenaria
siceraria) for the figure’s body. While there are obvious
practical advantages that might justify the use of the
bottle gourd for the body of the effigy, there existed
numerous alternatives. Certainly, the symbolic values
associated with this cultigen should be considered as
potentially relevant to the effigy’s significance,
particularly given the continued importance of the
bottle gourd in contemporary Amazonian ritual (for
example, Hugh-Jones 1979:163-192). As Donald
Lathrap (1977) emphasized in his article “Our Father
the Cayman, Our Mother the Gourd,” the hard-shelled
fruit of the white-flowered bottle gourd had special
significance as the earliest cultigen known in the Andes.
Whether any memory of the bottle gourd’s primordial
role in plant domestication remained by the Initial
Period is unknown, although its prominent
representation on the Tello Obelisk suggests that some
sense of its importance had survived in myth (Lathrap
1973). As Lathrap notes, in South American lowland
myth and ritual, the bottle gourd is viewed as a
metaphorical womb. In one myth from Guyana, for
example, the only surviving man peoples his region by
copulating with a gourd (Lathrap 1977). The symbol of
the gourd as womb is shared with cultures of Melanesia
and Africa.
But while the bottle gourd generally has strong
association with the female forces of fertility, the
distinctive form of the bottle-shaped race of Lagenaria
siceraria, such as in the one used for the body of the
Mina Perdida figure, is suggestive of the male
copulatory organ, the penis. In fact, traditional peoples
of New Guinea and other areas used this race of
Lagenaria siceraria as penis sheaths. This raises the
possibility that the Lagenaria siceraria could have
served as a powerful natural symbol for the fusion of
the female and male forces of fertility. Such a reading of
the gourd would be consistent with the lack of
diagnostic sexual attributes on the Mina Perdida effigy.
This absence contrasts with the strong female character
of coeval ceramic figurines from Initial Period sites
along the Central Coast (Burger 1992:65-66, fig. 48).
If the effigy did represent a mythical ancestor, the
choice of the gourd for the body because of its
salience as a symbolic womb/penis would seem to be
particularly appropriate.
Additional insight into the meaning of the Mina
Perdida effigy can be gleaned from a consideration of
the context in which it was found. As has already been
described, the figure was buried face down on a back
terrace of the pyramid; the figure was oriented parallel
to the site’s central axis (and was as close to this axis as
possible without being on the back staircase itself). Is
there any intelligible significance to this manner of
disposal? In considering this question, we were struck by
its potential parallels to the burial of male and female
ancestors in the Middle Atrium at nearby Cardal (Burger
and Salazar-Burger 1991). The bodies of these
individuals were generally interred face down and then
covered with rock and clayey matrix. The place of their
burial was determined by the central axis of the site.
Finally, the location of the bodies’ disposal was only
obscured by the deposition of later unrelated material.
While these parallels to the disposition of the Mina
Perdida effigy are far from conclusive, it is tempting to
ask whether the disposal of the Mina Perdida effigy on
the terrace bears some relation to the burial of ancestors
in the heart of the Cardal pyramid. If so, this would
strengthen the interpretation of the Mina Perdida effigy
as a mythical ancestor.
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50 RES 33 SPRING 1998
Exploring the function of the Mina Perdida effigy
Determination of the function of the Mina Perdida
effigy is particularly difficult because it appears to be a
unique example of an otherwise unknown class of
objects. This statement does not imply that there are no
analogues to it, but it does reflect our opinion that none
of the comparable objects served the same function as
the anthropomorphic figure from Mina Perdida.
In terms of iconography and manufacture, the closest
analogy to the Mina Perdida effigy is found with two
“mu?ecos” (dolls) and a related object recovered in the
excavations by Rogger Ravines and William Isbell at the
Initial Period U-shaped center of Garagay. While these
have not been published in detail, enough information is
available to make preliminary comparisons. The “doll”
recovered from Offering Pit B on Mound B (Ravines and
Isbell 1976:1am. 28) has numerous anthropomorphic
features, including naturalistic oversized hands (with
nails) that are reminiscent of the Mina Perdida effigy.
Like the Mina Perdida effigy, it is dressed in a plain
weave textile. The supernatural identity of the Garagay
mu?eco is signaled by its fangs and by its somewhat
hemispherical eyes with eccentric pupils. Besides the
similarity of their formal characteristics, its construction
seems to be similar to that of the Mina Perdida effigy. A
second “doll,” recovered from Offering Pit C on Mound
B (Ravines and Isbell 1976:1am. 30), likewise represents
an anthropomorphic figure dressed in a plain weave
textile, but with a fanged mouth. In this case, there are
both enlarged upper and lower incisors. As in the case
of the Mina Perdida effigy, the nose is carefully modeled
and some sort of hair or other fiber is used in the figure’s
coiffure. A third fragmentary modeled face (referred to
as a “mascarilla de yeso”) recovered in a fill from
Mound A at Garagay may have originally been part of
still another mu?eco. The surviving piece shows an
anthropomorphic face with six prominent upper
incisors, hemispherical eyes with eccentric pupils, and a
painted face band descending from the eyes across the
figure’s cheek. The two complete figures are described as
being painted and made of modeled plaster built around
a core of small twigs, fiber, and leaves. The excavators
were impressed with the quality of the modeling of the
hands and face.
While these figures from Garagay provide an
interesting source of comparison to the Mina Perdida
effigy, they do little to advance our understanding of its
meaning. The Garagay specimens are significantly smaller.
The Mina Perdida effigy, for example, is seven times the
size of the figure found in Offering Pit B at Garagay. It
also is significant that none of the Garagay figures have
gourd-bodies. In addition, there is no indication that the
Garagay figures were built to permit the movement of
their limbs, as was the case with the Mina Perdida piece,
and they lack handles for holding them. Thus, despite the
similarities in features and manufacture, the figures may
have been used very differently from the Mina Perdida
effigy. In scale and general form, the Garagay “dolls” are
in some respects closer to ceramic figurines than to the
Mina Perdida effigy.
While the Mina Perdida and Garagay specimens were
all recovered from temple mounds, the two Garagay
pieces came from so-called Offering Pits (which may
have been socket supports for columns) buried under
the fill of later construction, and the face fragment
likewise came from construction fill. These contexts and
the way in which the specimens were discarded are
quite distinct from the context in which the Mina
Perdida effigy was found. Nevertheless, it is conceivable
that the Garagay specimens, like the Mina Perdida effigy,
were once considered ritual paraphernalia and that their
burial in the ceremonial architecture solved the problem
of disposing of these symbolic items.
Another object that is comparable in some respects to
the Mina Perdida effigy is a wooden figurine discovered
by Ramiro Matos (1968:227-228) in the late-Initial
Period grave of an adult woman at the fishing village of
Anc?n. The anthropomorphic figurine in question is
carved of the nonlocal tropical wood known as chonta.
The face of the figurine is painted red and black. As in
the Mina Perdida effigy, the facial features, fingers, and
toes (including nails) are carefully executed. The
figurine, however, not only differs in the material and
the manner in which it was made, but it also lacks the
feline and avian attributes so prominent on the Mina
Perdida figure. One powerful parallel is that the arms
were carved separately from the body, but unlike the
Mina Perdida object, the head, body, and legs were all
made from a single block of wood and the object has no
handle. Although the arms are jointed, they hang
sideways on the body, and the fingers are not spread
apart. Similarly the legs are not flexed or turned
sideways. Thus there is no feature of the figurine that
suggests that it represents a supernatural. Its size (12.3
cm in height) and its funerary context likewise suggest
no functional (or ideological) analogue to the Mina
Perdida figurine.
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Burger and Salazar-Burger: A sacred effigy from Mina Perdida 51
Lacking any close comparisons, our hypotheses
concerning function must derive from formal
observations of the Mina Perdida anthropomorphic
effigy. The handle at the base of the object suggests that
it was meant to be held, perhaps above the head of its
handler. As in the case of the shadow puppets of Java
and Bali, the handle suggests that the effigy was actively
manipulated rather than passively positioned. The
jointed arrangement of the figure’s arms and legs is
clearly designed to permit movement and, as noted, the
wear confirms that the figure’s limbs did move during its
use prior to interment. Connected to the gourd-body
been carried through the open plaza area, just as small
effigies of Catholic saints are paraded through the streets
and squares of Peruvian towns and cities today.
As noted at the outset of this article, the nature of the
only by cotton strings, the arms and legs of the figure
rituals carried out in the ceremonial complexes of the
Initial Period remain largely unknown, but the
likelihood that they sometimes involved the use of large
puppetlike figures suggests the visual and choreographic
richness that may have been involved. By the time the
Spanish arrived, ceremonies no longer employed jointed
effigies like that found at Mina Perdida, but costumed
and masked dancers may have served much the same
function. On the other side of the Pacific, the voices of
would have unavoidably swung back and forth as it was
carried. The finishing of the limbs and the body
gods and ancestors today continue to speak through the
puppetlike effigies of Southeast Asian cultures from
strengthen the impression that the effigy was designed to
Thailand to Melanesia (Guidieri and Pellizzi 1981), as
be seen from many angles while in active use.
Considering our interpretation of the meaning of its
iconography, we would suggest that the effigy was a
puppetlike piece of religious paraphernalia utilized in
the tales of their people are reenacted for yet another
generation. And once such performances have been
witnessed, perhaps it is not impossible to imagine a
torchlit ceremony on the top of Mina Perdida, with
winds blowing off the ocean, and stars carpeting the
the rituals carried out in the summit environments of
Mina Perdida.
sky. Suddenly a terrifyingly strange yet almost human
Perhaps the ultimate function of the effigy was as a
tool in the ancient narratives or religious dogma.
Analogies to the puppets of Southeast Asia suggest the
powerful role of theatre in communicating myths,
beliefs, and values, whether in a sacred setting or a
more secular one. Southeast Asia is one portion of the
world where puppetlike effigies still play a central role
in spiritual and cultural life. Whether dealing with
relatively simple puppets consisting of modeled heads
and arms attached to a long stick that are used by men’s
societies in Vanuatu (New Hebrides) or with the
elaborately painted, flat, leather puppets used in the
Balinese and Javanese shadow theatre (wayang), the
power of these pieces of ritual paraphernalia when
animated by their holder is undeniable.
The scale of the Mina Perdida effigy is appropriate for
use in the small, closed environments found on the
summit of Mina Perdida and analogous U-shaped
centers. Within atria the size of those at Cardal and
Garagay, it would have been possible to appreciate the
detailed polychrome features and subtle movement of
this remarkable effigy. It will be recalled that the figure
was found on an upper terrace of the Mina Perdida
central pyramid, just below the areas where such
environments existed. And while the use of the effigy on
the pyramid’s summit could not have been appreciated
by people in the plaza below, the “puppet” could have
supernatural cloaked in a cotton garment leaps into
view, its limbs swaying and hair blowing. Enormous
fangs jut from its mouth, its huge hands are raised and
spread wide, and a strange disembodied voice issues
from its fanged and bloody mouth telling of an unseen
world and a mythical time, both of which suddenly
seem very real indeed.
AI va, Walter
1992 “Orfebrer?a del Formativo,” in Oro del Antiguo Per?,
ed. Jos? Antonio de Laval le, pp. 17-116. Banco de
Cr?dito del Per? en La Cultura, Lima.
Blake, Emmet R.
1977 Manual of Neotropical Birds, vol. 1. The University
of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Brown, L., and D. Amadon
1968 Eagles, Hawks and Falcons of the World, 2 vols.
McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York.
Burger, Richard L.
1992 Chavin and the Origins of Andean Civilization.
Thames and Hudson, Ltd., London.
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52 RES 33 SPRING 1998

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