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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Culture: Chorrera (Ecuador)
Title: Doughnut-shaped Animal Effigy Vessel
Date: 1100-300 BC
Medium: Earthenware
Dimensions: 7 7/8 x 5 7/8 inches (20 x 15 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Thomas Carroll, PhD 1951
Object Number: 2006.070.034
This Chorrera vessel features an effigy of a monkey. An effigy is a sculpture made in the shape of a person or an animal.

This vessel was made in what is now Ecuador.

This bottle was likely hand-built with the coil method. In this method, a base is made by shaping clay into a flat disc. Then hand formed coils of clay, like ropes, are successively added to one another, building up the walls of the vessel. A tool such as a wooden paddle is used to smooth the sides both inside and out, leaving no trace of the coils.

The spout and handle were made separately, as was the monkey. These were likely modeled by hand.
The vessel has been colored with slip, a mixture of clay and water. Slip is made by mixing different-colored clays or ground mineral pigments with water. After the slip dried, it was burnished using a smooth object such as a stone or piece of bone. Finally, the finished bottle was fired in an earthen pit.

Bottles like this one may have been used to carry and serve liquids, since the narrow-necked shape would have reduced losses from accidental spills and evaporation. Although water is vital in desert environments such as those found in many parts of the Andes, recent analyses of residues from Peruvian bottles and jars suggest that most of them were used to serve corn (maize) beer or chicha. Chicha was both an everyday beverage, made in households for family consumption, and an essential element in ritual and social interactions.

Look at the animal on the vessel; this may be a monkey. Monkeys live only in areas with abundant water resources, and therefore may symbolize water when found on the artwork of desert-dwelling people, such as the Nasca culture of coastal Peru. Monkeys are associated with agriculture and fertility, and because of their similarities to people, are sometimes depicted engaging in human-like activities, even in warfare. Among the Moche, monkeys are associated with coca-chewing; both are native to the moist, warm eastern slopes of the Andes. Perhaps because of the role played by both monkeys and coca in origin myths, monkeys are sometimes viewed as ancestor spirits. The Incas are said to have venerated the monkey for its cunning. Some cultures see monkeys as the embodiment of spirits, but they are hunted for food in the tropical lowlands where they are common.

Aspects of many different animals can be found on pre-Columbian pottery, textiles, and metalwork. They depict wild and domesticated animals, creatures commonly encountered in everyday life, and creatures found rarely—or not at all—in the natural world. These animals are often mixed with human attributes in what may appear to us to be startling fantasy combinations.

The three species of monkey most likely represented in Peruvian and Ecuadorian art, which are native to the coast of Ecuador, are the spider monkey (Ateles paniscus), the white-fronted capuchin monkey (Cebus albifrons), and the mantled howler monkey (Alouatta palliata). It is likely that monkeys were traded and kept as pets, which would account for their presence in the art of people far outside their normal range.

To see another Chorrera vessel with a figure of a monkey in the Johnson Museum’s collection, search for object number 2006.070.035 in the keyword search box.

The Chorrera culture’s extended sphere of influence incorporated all three major Ecuadorian ecological zones: the coast, sierra (mountains), and Amazonia. While the Chorrera culture had its origins in the earlier Machalilla culture of the coast, certain aspects of its ceramic technology may have been influenced by the Ocós culture of Mesoamerica. The Chorrera people lived in small communities of 100-120 people, which seem to have supported craft specialists despite their small size. Fishing and farming were distinct occupations. The economy of the Chorrera people was based on farming, hunting and gathering. Trade along rivers and over the sea, especially trade in valuable stones such as lapiz lazuli, obsidian, and rock crystal, played an important role in the florescence of this culture. The highly burnished redware ceramics were decorated with black resist decoration, and feature an assortment of naturalistic animals and stylized human figures. Whistling bottles make their appearance during this period. The first cultural horizon in Ecuador to be widespread over a relatively large geographic region, the Chorrera people laid down a common cultural foundation upon which later cultures were built.

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.