The Colima are part of a group of archaeological cultures – known
almost purely from their artworks – referred to as the Western Mexico
Shaft Tomb (WMST) tradition. There are many distinct groups within this
agglomeration, and their relationships are almost totally obscure due to
the lack of contextual information.
All of the cultures encompassed under the WMST nomenclature were in
the habit of burying their dead in socially-stratified burial chambers at
the base of deep shafts, which were in turn often topped by buildings.
Originally believed to be influenced by the Tarascan people, who were
contemporaries of the Aztecs, thermoluminescence has pushed back the
dates of these groups over 1000 years. Although the apogee of this
tradition was reached in the last centuries of the 1st millennium BC, it
has its origins over 1000 years earlier at sites such as Huitzilapa and
Teuchitlan, in the Jalisco region. Little is known of the cultures
themselves, although preliminary data seems to suggest that they were
sedentary agriculturists with social systems not dissimilar to chiefdoms.
These cultures are especially interesting to students of Mesoamerican
history as they seem to have been to a large extent outside the ebb and
flow of more aggressive cultures – such as the Toltecs, Olmecs and Maya
– in the same vicinity. Thus insulated from the perils of urbanization,
they developed very much in isolation, and it behooves us to learn what
we can from what they have left behind.
The arts of this region are enormously variable and hard to understand
in chronological terms, mainly due to the lack of context. The most
striking works are the ceramics, which were usually placed in graves,
and do not seem to have performed any practical function (although
highly decorated utilitarian vessels are also known). It is possible that
they were designed to depict the deceased – they are often very
naturalistic – although it is more probable that they constituted, when in
groups, a retinue of companions, protectors and servants for the
hereafter. More abstract pieces – such as reclinatorios – probably had a
more esoteric meaning that is hard to recapture from the piece.
The current piece falls within the Colima style, which is perhaps the
most unusual stylistic subgroup of this region. Characterized by a warm,
red glaze, the figures are very measured and conservative, while at the
same time displaying a great competence of line. They are famous for
their sculptures of obese dogs, which seem to have been fattened for
the table. Colima reclinatorios are also remarkable, curvilinear yet
geometric assemblages of intersecting planes and enigmatic
constructions in the semi- abstract.
This figure comes from the state of Colima and
is typical of a substyle know as Tuxcacuesco-
Ortices. The male figure
stands alert with his long shapeless arms
crossed over his chest. His body, slender and
thin in profile is modestly adorned. A loincloth is
delicately incised with two appliquéd tassels.
The figure wears a simple necklace. Other
appliquéd features include the coffee bean
shaped eyes, parted lips, simple ear ornaments,
and hair indicated by parallel-incised lines. We
can imagine this figure as he once rested among
the dead in an ancient shaft tomb. His form and
modeling is simple, but his purpose in the next
world was great.