OBJECT OF THE MONTH - September, 2009

Owl Effigy Jar

This owl effigy jar (UCM 02061A) is from Casas Grandes located in Northern Chihuahua, Mexico. It dates to 1250-1450 AD.


Casas Grandes was one of the largest pre-Columbian cities in the Southwest. Casas Grandes is intriguing to archaeologists because it showcases elements of both Pueblo and Mesoamerican culture. Casas Grandes has traditionally Mesoamerican elements, like ballcourts and platform mounds but also has large Pueblo adobe multi-storied buildings.
In addition to the unique architecture, Casas Grandes was a trading hub that reached far into the American Southwest. Shells, macaw feathers, copper bells, and pottery were just some of the Mesoamerican luxury items traded in and out of Casas Grandes. Archaeologists are still discovering the extent and nature of this trading system.
Casas Grandes pottery is well known for its iconography and effigies. Human effigies are prevalent as are birds, fish, snakes, and mythological creatures. The owl effigy jar pictured above is just one example of the wide variety of animals depicted on Casas Grandes pottery. Perhaps these jars were used for food offerings in religious ceremonies but a consensus has still yet to be reached on their function.
This owl effigy is a Ramos polychrome type of pottery. It is created using light colored clay that is coiled and scraped into the desired shape and fired in an oxidizing atmosphere. The owl is decorated with red and black painted geometric designs on a light tan slip. Come see this owl effigy and many other Southwest ceramic effigies in the BioLounge at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History today!
To learn more about Casas Grandes and Southwestern ceramics, try these resources:
Ancient Puebloan Southwest, John Kantner, 2004, Cambridge University Press.
A History of the Ancient Southwest, Stephen H. Lekson, 2009, School for Advanced Research Press, New Mexico.
Southwestern Pottery: Anasazi to Zuni, Allan Hayes, 1996, Northland, Arizona.