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Jar: Severed Head

Location

PERU, SOUTH COAST

Era

250 B.C.E.-700 C.E.

Culture

Nasca

Title

Jar: Severed Head

Date

50 B.C.E.-400 C.E.

Materials

Earthenware, slip, polychrome painted decoration

Dimensions

12.5 cm (h.), 14 cm (diam.)

Credits

Gift of Nina Bruck, inv. 2011.75

Collection

Archeology and World Cultures

The severed head is a recurring motif in Nasca art. Its significance, however, remains the subject of debate. The two main hypotheses are based on its use as part of ancestor worship and on the taking of heads as battle trophies. Despite the uncertainty, we do know that the iconographic motif of the severed head corresponds to an actual practice. In fact, several heads with a rope going through a hole made in the forehead, probably to facilitate carrying or displaying them, have been found in caches. Here, the closed eyes and two lines – or cactus spines – sealing the lips clearly indicate that it is a severed head and not the depiction of a living being.

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