Naturalist Joseph Beal Steere collected this small ceramic object in Brazil during his 1870–1875 collecting expedition. Steere’s records don’t state precisely where he found it, but it almost certainly was the island of Marajó in the mouth of the Amazon River. Known as tangas, these triangular objects were designed to cover the female pubic area. Small holes at each corner allowed the tanga to be suspended from a woman or girl’s waist. Tangas have been found in burials and settlements. Many examples, like this one, lack detailed information on context. Scholars debate whether women and girls wore tangas daily or only on ceremonial occasions. Many tangas were decorated with complex geometric red designs on white background. Unfortunately, much of the fragile red paint has flaked off of this tanga, making the original decoration difficult to reconstruct.
In honor of the University of Michigan’s 2017 bicentennial, we are celebrating the remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections and rich legacy of research and teaching at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology by posting one entry a day for 200 days. The entries will highlight objects from the collections, museum personalities, and UMMAA expeditions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is also posting each day for 200 days on Twitter and Facebook (follow along at #KMA200). After the last post, an exhibition on two centuries of archaeology at U-M opens at the Kelsey. Visit the exhibit—a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey—from October 18, 2017 to May 27, 2018.