Theses Doctoral

Clay Bodies, Powerful Pots: On the Imagery and Ontology of Wari Faceneck Vessels

Vazquez de Arthur, Andrea

The faceneck vessel is a significant and prolific ceramic form in the visual culture of the Wari civilization, a powerful polity with formidable cultural influence during the Middle Horizon Period of Andean prehistory. Numerous large and elaborately modeled and painted examples have been unearthed from prominent Wari centers, and hundreds of smaller examples have been found in tombs or reside in collections without provenience. The faceneck form was produced in all epochs of the Middle Horizon and has been found at Wari sites across the entire region of Wari influence. Furthermore, this vessel type has antecedents that can be traced back to the second millennium B.C., was produced by various Middle Horizon societies, and continued to be produced after the collapse of the Wari Empire in A.D. 1000. Nevertheless, the faceneck vessel has never been at the center of any major study and little is known about the meaning or use of this elusive ceramic form. This study aims to shed light on the faceneck vessel in the context of Wari visual culture by bringing together more than 200 examples drawn from collections in Peru, the United States, and Europe. Through the formal analysis and stylistic comparison of facenecks from all over the Wari sphere of influence, this study looks closely at how the faceneck form may have functioned within an ancient Andean social network that included both human and non-human participants.

Scholarship on ancient Andean visual culture has recently been undergoing an ontological turn as art historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists have been applying a localized ontological perspective to their interpretations of the material record. This study applies Andean perspectivism, an ontological viewpoint that considers the significance of feasting rituals and ancestor veneration within an animate world, to think through the potential for faceneck vessels to have participated as social agents in complex rituals involving valuable offerings and communion with the dead. Ultimately, I conclude that faceneck vessels, as anthropomorphized objects projecting a powerful sense of personhood, likely functioned as active participants in rituals involving the transfer of offerings between disparate parties. I argue that as full-bodied clay persons, faceneck vessels are well equipped to provide material bodies for the absent bodies of the recipients of offerings, such as disembodied ancestors. Serving as surrogate bodies, facenecks may have helped fulfill certain critical acts of reciprocity that were required by the Andean doctrine of ayni. This study brings attention to the prominent status of ceramics in the ancient Andes and calls for further study into how other uniquely Andean ceramic forms may have played similarly powerful roles in ritual activity.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Pasztory, Esther
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 12, 2020