Severed Head Effigy Vessel

Severed Head Effigy Vessel

c. 100-350

Earthenware with colored slips

Overall: 22 x 20.5 x 24.5 cm (8 11/16 x 8 1/16 x 9 5/8 in.)

James Albert and Mary Gardiner Ford Memorial Fund 1997.2



The Nasca people were organized politically into small, competing chiefdoms, and warfare was common. This vessel represents a freshly severed human head (probably that of a captured and sacrificed prisoner) with staring eyes, gaping mouth, and blood-red underside. Modeling of the mouth cavity, tongue, and teeth lends the image a startling realism. Human sacrifice by decapitation was a central element of Nasca religion, essential to agricultural fertility. Severed heads were emptied and dried, then pierced through the forehead and suspended from a thick cord. Such preserved heads have been recovered from offering deposits and from tombs, where they were buried with their captors.

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