The Testimony of Hands


Location of Mimbres culture
40.4.108, ceramic bowl
Mimbres Classic Black-on-white, probably late Style III
Southwest New Mexico
Berry Bowen collection
Photograph by B. Bernard

The Mimbres people were an identifiable group in southwest New Mexico from about A.D. 200 to 1200; afterwards, they merged into the general Puebloan population. They are the most famous of New Mexico's prehistoric potters, due to their depictions of humans and animals (including non-local animals such as parrots and seafish). The Mimbres potters also depicted imaginary creatures. In this case, the central figure combines attributes of a bird and a bat. The lower part of the wings include a visual allusion to insect wings (possibly dragonfly wings).

The Mimbres potters obtained a white background for their designs with a "slip" (watery clay used as a wash) of kaolin clay. The next photo shows the outside of the bowl. The slip is thin, so polishing before firing and abrasion during use have exposed the coarser, darker clay underneath.

Photograph by B. Bernard

The black paint was made from iron minerals. If too much oxygen reached the paint during firing, the iron was oxidized and the paint color turned a rusty red. To minimize the oxygen present during firing, and to keep charcoal away from the painted designs, the Mimbres potters placed bowls upside-down in the firing pit.

Sadly, the demand for Mimbres pottery among collectors led to the looting of almost every Mimbres pueblo. Many of the bowls have "kill holes," indicating that they were looted from burials. (The hole was punched in the bowl during funerals.) Museums no longer consider bowls with kill holes to be suitable for public display. This is one of the few Mimbres bowls in the collections that lacks a kill hole.

For more information about this type of pottery, we recommend a book by J.J. Brody. To learn about Mimbres depiction of exotic species, we recommend an article on macaws and parrots and another on fish.

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All content copyright © Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, University of New Mexico. High-resolution versions photographs may be ordered from the Maxwell Museum's photo archives. Please make note of the catalogue numbers. For more information please visit the photo archives web page

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