Testimony of Hands:
A Group Portrait

A group of Precolumbian figurines

Photograph by B. Bernard

Archaeologists tell themselves to approach antiquities without passion—they're not there to impose their own aesthetics on the past, but to study it. Even so, on one occasion we were struck by the ability of certain artifacts to convey a sense of connection and even (in a non-scientific sense) understanding. A graduate student had set out the museum's collection of West Mexican human figurines on a table, in order to study them, and the visual effect was strikingly like that of an actual group picture: each person recognizably an individual, yet part of a visibly common humanity. This photo does not show as big a crowd as the one created by the graduate student but here as well, the grouping conveys (at least to us) a sense of the shared experience that is humanity.

In a few cases, archaeologists have found figurines arranged in groups, indicating scenes. According to Joyce Marcus' "Rethinking Figurines," such arrangements could represent ancestors, and might have been part of household scenes.

In this portrait, not every figurine is from West Mexico. Can you tell which? (For the answer, please click here.) Visual links to individual portraits can be found lower down on this page. Or, for additional group pictures, please click on one of the thumbnails immediately below.


Figurines of women A small group of figurines


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Copyright © Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, University of New Mexico. A high-resolution verson of any photograph may be ordered from the Maxwell Museum's photo archives. Please make note of the catalogue number. For more information please visit the photo archives web page

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Page last revised on March 29, 2010. Please report problems to toh@unm.edu