Two Stone Figures from the Andes

Question: What Part?

By: Alfred Kidder, II

Originally Published in 1965

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andes_mapOne of the most exasperating but at the same time challenging things that can happen to an archaeologist working in a museum as Director or Associate Director is to come across specimens with no catalogue numbers or with conflicting statements as to their origin. If the specimens area obviously outside his own special field of interest he can, and does, refer the problem to the curators of the various sections concerned, who, often with help from colleagues at other institutions, can generally pretty well pin down at least the general location and date. If, however, he is sure that he is dealing with objects that fall within his own area of competence, there results a nagging feeling of compulsion to see what he can do to straighten things out. This kind of investigation can be frustrating, but, as in the case of one of the two Andean figures, quite rewarding.

To start with the standing human statue, it has no visible catalogue number. Detailed inspection of every square inch of its surface with a magnifying glass reveals no sign that it ever had one, so other lines of evidence, however shaky, must be followed. Such evidence would not be admissible in a court of law, but archaeologists are not limited in their speculations by the rules of jurisprudence. Within their fraternity the only rule that applies is the one that calls for the presentation of pertinent reasons for conclusions and in this “case,” in which the evidence is mostly negative, the verdict can be nothing but “not proven.”

First of all, why have I labeled the statue as Andean? Simply because it has an Andean “look” and more specifically because that “look,” to me, makes me think of the area around Lake Titicaca in southern Peru and Bolivia (the international border runs through the lake). Furthermore, none of my knowledgeable colleagues who have seen the statue, and together they know about this sort of work from just about every corner of the globe, have claimed it for their own. In addition to this useful but negative kind of reasoning, there is the fact that the statue was associated in the storeroom, apparently (but again not absolutely certainly), with several pieces of stone sculpture from Bolivia, that were collected by Max Uhle in about 1895, the year in which he was hired by the University Museum by mail, sight unseen, to work for us in the Central Andes. Not finding the then Government of Bolivia cooperative in allowing him to excavate in that country, he went to Peru where he laid the foundations of scientific archaeology in the Andes as a result of his work at Pachacamac, near Lima. The implication, strengthened by the size and weight of the stones, plus the accumulation of dust and grime, made it seem likely that the statues had been together in the same remote part of the basement ever since they were brought to Philadelphia. But this is only an implication, not based on very good evidence, that our unnumbered figure was collected by Uhle. Too many specimens have been found in museum storerooms associated with others with which they had no possible reason to be stored. Nonetheless, it is a clue, and must be given some weight, in view of the style of the figure.

Stone statue of unknown origin, Height 29 1/4 inches as shown.

The stone itself tells us nothing. It is a dark gray, coarse stone that looks like a schist (it has not been identified by a geologist). I do not recall having seen its equal among the many sculptures I have examined in Bolivia and Peru, most of which are of sandstone or basalt. The back is uncarved and only roughly smoothed. The base, which is not visible in the photograph, provides only about two or three inches extra length for setting the figure upright, but this is sufficient for the purpose of so doing. One aspect of the treatment of the human figure as a whole is its blockiness which is characteristic of the sculpture of the great Bolivian site of Tiahuanaco and related ruins in both Bolivia and southern Peru. In detail, however, it has none of the distinctive traits of Classic Tiahuanaco design, which are easily recognizable. Starting at the top, the headband with its concentric diamond pattern I cannot duplicate, but the headband is found in many statues in the Titicaca area. The eyes are also suggestive of the staring eyes of many Peruvian specimens, but again I cannot find exact duplicates. There are some examples of a rounded oblong eye from the Province of Puno, on the northern and western side of Lake Titicaca, but none as relatively long and flattened. The nose, linked with the eyebrows  recalls similar treatment in both Peru and Bolivia, and the marked flaring of the nostrils is not uncommon. The mouth, again a rounded oblong, has teeth that resemble those in Tiahuanaco design, but they lack the stylized depiction of canine teeth so characteristic of Tiahuanaco style. In the Titicaca region teeth are not usually shown in full face sculpture, which makes this example unusual in itself. there is, however, one example from a site not far south of Tiahuanaco which, while otherwise typically Classic Tiahuanaco in style, has a rounded oblong mouth. The only difference between the mouth of this head (the “Gigantic Head” of A. Posnansky, now in the outdoor museum of Tiahuanaco sculpture in La Paz, Bolivia) and that of our unnumbered statue is that it has two rows of square teeth instead of one.

There are a number of parallels for the position of the hands on the stomach, but the treatment of the shoulders, with squared extensions in relief from the tops of the upper arms toward the mid-line of the body, is unique in my experience. The presence of breasts or nipples is not common but does occur in a few statues in both Peru and Bolivia. There is nothing about the waistband that helps to locate the statue in space and time, but the treatment of the feet, splayed out in the opposite directions in profile, is not found in any sculpture in the region, either in full-round or relief. There are some low-relief representations of the feet of full face human beings at Tiahuanaco with both feet in profile but turned in the same direction.

In summary, the unnumbered statue has, in the mouth, one fairly detailed resemblance to an unusual Tiahuanaco trait and some general resemblances to both Bolivian and Peruvian statues, but eludes classification in any known stylistic category. It is also unusual in being a standing human figure in relief. Most of these, especially in full face, are in the round, blocky, and often with much detail in low-relief incision. Other full face figures occur on friezes or are incised or carved on large statues as part of their detailed decoration. About all that can be said, then, about the unnumbered statue is that it may have been collected by Max Uhle in Bolivia, and that it is not in the Tiahuanaco tradition. It could be earlier or later; there is no evidence one way or the other. Finally, it is quite possible that it represents a local style, perhaps from a remote area not yet well explored archaeologically, and may some day be fitted into the larger picture of the ancient cultures of Lake Titicaca and adjacent regions.

The second stone figure is much smaller, only eight inches high, but of much finer workmanship. It is a great pity that the head was broken off in antiquity, not only for aesthetic reasons but because it could have provided useful additional clues as to its stylistic affiliations. The material from which it was carved is almost certainly magnetite. It has the greenish-back submetallic luster exactly similar to that of objects identified as magnetite that I excavated at Pucara, on the Peruvian side of the Titicaca basin, and the same high specific gravity.

Seated stone figure with head broken off. Height 29 1/4 inches as shown; maximum thickness 4 1/2 inches.
Museum Object Number: 43393

The history of the piece is somewhat garbled. In our records it was catalogued as number 43393. The locality is given as Tiahuanaco, Peru. This is impossible, since Tiahuanaco is in Bolivia. There is no further information excepting the name of the collector, Samuel Mathewson Scott, and the dates 1892-94. In addition to the statuette, Mr. Scott also sold to the Museum at that time a considerable collection of Peruvian pottery from northern coastal Peru and published two articles on his excavations of some of the collection in the American Anthropologist and the American Naturalist in 1895. So far as Miss Geraldine Bruckner, the Museum’s Archivist, and I have been able to discover, there is no record of Mr. Scott’s having travelled in southern Peru or Bolivia, which of course, he might have done. Further investigation, beyond published biographical sources and in our own archives, has not been udnertaken, and we are well aware that family records may be in existence that could throw some further light on where he acquired the headless statue. The cataloguing history of the piece is further complicated by the later ascription of the little statue to Cuzco, the capital of the Inca Empire. Just when this change was made is not clear. The first direct record of it does not appear until 1943, when the figure was given a new number (29-143-14) and the Cuzco locality. There is reason to believe, however, that the change in opinion as to place of origin goes back to before the turn of the century.

The late Miss Harriet Newell Wardle, Assistant Curator in the American Section of the Museum, who did the re-cataloguing in 1943, seems not to have been aware of the original number, which was extremely faint in black ink on the black stone, because only uncatalogued pieces were being given numbers in the new system which was adopted in 1929 (hence the 29 in the new number). Unaware of the original card ascribing the specimen to Tiahuanaco (probably placed in Peru because all the rest of the Scott collection came from there), she must have started from scratch to find a reasonable locality. What she found was a reference in Max Uhle’s report in his excavations at Pachacamac to “a stone sculpture from Cuzco, Museum of Science and Art.” (The University Museum was so entitled in the 1890’s.) This, in a footnote, appears in connection with a discussion of some potsherds from Pachacamac that were painted with serpent designs and Uhle was comparing these sherds, which are of coastal Tiahuanaco style, with Bolivian Tiahuanaco. He stated that “A decorative use of serpents…is foreign to the style of Tiahuanaco” and “that they cannot have been quite unknown in southern Peru.” The footnote is to this last remark and it appears that Miss Wardle identified the “stone sculpture from Cuzco, Museum of Science and Art” with our headless sculpture originally No. 43393. I think her reasoning must have been more or less as follows. She knew that Uhle had been in Philadelphia from 1897 to 1899 writing his report on Pachacamac. She also knew that at that time the Scott collection represented the only Peruvian material in the Museum and that Uhle must have known it well. Since Miss Wardle herself described the figure in the new catalogue as having “serpent attributes” and mentions “serpents” three times in her description of it, she quite understandably retained Uhle’s locality. She also was unaware of the true collector, Scott, for she wrote under the space marked “Collected,” “with Uhle collection.” She apparently thought that Uhle had collected the piece, and, since she knew that there were no other stone sculptures with “serpent attributes” in the Museum’s Peruvian collection, she did not question the locality he ascribed to it. It was not until 1950 that Miss Frances Eyman, Keeper of the American Collection, made the connection with the original catalogue card and noted that numbers 43393 and 29-143-14 referred to one and the same object.

The really interesting part of this puzzle is not the foregoing, which is, after all, only an example of the inevitable confusion inherent in the handling of thousands of specimens. It is why, if we assume that the sculpture referred to in Uhle’s footnote as “from Cuzco” is Scott’s original number 43393, and there seems to be little room for doubt that it is, did Uhle think it came from Cuzco? Was he aware of the original catalogue card? Apparently not, for had he been, I think he would have quoted the number in his footnote to identify the sculpture beyond doubt. One can thus assume that he, like Miss Wardle, must have missed the dark number on the dark stone and decided that Cuzco was a logical source. Uhle had not yet been to Cuzco when he wrote his footnote, but he knew Tiahuanaco style well. The statuette is certainly much more like that of Tiahuanaco than of the Inca, which in Uhle’s day was all that was known from Cuzco. Although he was pretty surely not aware of one of the Bolivian sculptures which most closely resembles the headless statuette in a detailed way, and as yet knew nothing of the sculpture of the Peruvian part of the Titicaca basin, which is where I believe the piece was made, I cannot understand his reason for assigning it to Cuzco. Perhaps he decided that because what he thought were serpents were never associated with Tiahuanaco style and that they “cannot have been quite unknown in southern Peru,” it must be southern Peruvian and he chose Cuzco as the most logical center in that region.

Considering number 43393 alias number 29-143-43 in detail, it can at once be seen that it represents a figure seated, tailor fashion, since no feet are depicted, on a low base. Double headed “serpents” adorn both front and back; there are two more depending from curved bodies on the upper back, at each shoulder, and the breasts or nipples are “serpent” heads with short bodies curved around them. I do not believe that these are “serpents,” at least altogether “serpents.” If we examine their heads it is very clear that they have ears and that they are in fact feline heads, probably puma heads. It has been suggested that these puma-headed wavy-bodied creatures may be composite puma-snakes, otters, or perhaps tadpoles. At any rate, they are most characteristic of the northern (Peruvian) Titicaca basin (the stela illustrated shows only one of many examples) and similar puma-headed creatures occur on some Tiahuanaco stone carvings.

Drawing of the back of a carved stela of white sandstone found near the village of Pucardi in the Province of Puno, north of Lake Titicaca in southern Peru.

Another feature that points to the northern side of the Lake is the crosses carved in relief on the elbows. These are found at Pucara and at two other sites nearer the Lake. This design element also occurs at Tiahuanaco on a stela fragment that has been termed “aberrant” and that is certainly not in Classic Tiahuanaco style. It may be earlier than the typical Classic Tiahuanaco statues but as yet this cannot be proved.

On the Pucara stela there are two panels of zigzag bands. This motif also appears on the front and sides of the statuette. The combination of the relief cross and the zigzag panels with the use of magnetite points to the Pucara region as a most probably place of origin for the headless figure. There is, however, one additional motif that relates the figure to Bolivia. This is the arrangement of the two curved puma-headed creatures on the back of our headless figure. A considerably larger seated human figure found not far south of Tiahuanaco has a very similar pair of puma-headed “serpents” with the heads over the shoulder blades in the same fashion as our own headless figure. In this case they represent a double-headed creature with the single body carved as a band across the forehead, down in front of the ears and each side of the neck, and thence coming together in the middle of the back and curving up on each side to terminate in puma heads. It is thus very tantalizing not to have the head of our figure, to see whether it also had a double-headed creature depending from the forehead down the back. I think this was probably the case. On the assumption that it was, we have some further evidence that the statuette has more to do with Pucara and the northern Titicaca basin than with Classic Tiahuanaco. This is because the Bolivian statue belongs to a group that is thought by most observers to be from a Pre-Classic time in the Tiahuanaco region. The Bolivian seated statue has a number of affinities with Pucara sculpture, and, since Pucara is dated earlier than Classic Tiahuanaco a sharing of design motifs at that time (the first century B.C.) would be expectable. This is strengthened by the fact that Pucara and Tiahuanaco share a number of motifs although they are separate and distinctive styles. I think we can safely conclude that Mr. Scott’s little figure was made in or near Pucara, probably in the first century B.C. and that its maker was working in a style that shared at least some motifs with contemporary sculptures from the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. The catalogue card will be amended to this effect.

Cite This Article

II, Alfred Kidder,. "Two Stone Figures from the Andes." Expedition Magazine 7, no. 4 (July, 1965): -. Accessed September 28, 2023.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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