This ceramic bird effigy vessel comes from the Reventazón River Valley in Costa Rica. It dates to the La Selva period (AD 400–800), a time associated with the rise of social complexity. Possession of, and burial with, elaborate gold and jade objects marked the status of emerging La Selva-period elites. Anthropomorphic bird and other animal images were part of a complex iconography linked to religious ideas and may have represented the mythical transformation of practitioners (shamans) into birds or spirit guardians. This small vessel may have been used to hold medicines or pigments.
U-M Professor of Wildlife Management W.W. Chase acquired this figurine in Costa Rica in 1962. Museum records describe it as having been recovered by a local resident (most likely digging graves in search of gold and jade) a few years earlier, in the rain forest in Cartago Province, some 60 miles east of the city of San Jose. (Thanks to Professor John Hoopes, University of Kansas, for providing insights on this vessel.)
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.