Terracotta figure fragment "La Tolita"

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The La Tolita - Tumaco culture, Southern Colombia or Northern Ecuador, 900BC to 200AD, private collection from Netherlands.

The La Tolita was pre-Columbian culture that spread throughout the coastal region of Colombia and Ecuador. Two of the most notable sites of this Amerindian culture are Tumaco and La Tolita, from which it takes its name. Depending on the source, it may also appear called the Tumaco de La Tolita culture. The available archaeological evidence of this culture is ancient in the case of the La Tolita site, whose materials have been dated around 600 BC., while in Tumaco the oldest dates correspond to 300 BC. During this period hierarchical societies dominated a huge coastal territory with settlements, mound cemeteries, agricultural fields and important advances in art and culture. Although little is known about this culture’s settlements, at least two major centers have been identified, one at Bahía de Tumaco (in Colombia) and the other on Isla de La Tolita (in Ecuador).

Their religion was polytheistic, likewise they were controlled by important leaders (caciques) and shamans wielding great religious and political power. Worship of deities born from the surrounding real world such as the jaguar, the serpent, the eagle, the harpy, and the alligator. They buried their dead lying down on their sides, with jewels, clothing, and practical implements as grave goods.

La Tolita society was probably divided into different classes. In addition to peasants, there were those such as metalworkers and other craftspeople who did not work directly on subsistence activities but who were members of a small, highly skilled class. La Tolita potters used sandy, grayish clay to make their fragments, which included jugs, pitchers, cups, tripods and yuca graters. The many figurines they made were finely crafted and realistically detailed, almost all having nose rings, ear ornaments, and other bodily ornaments like balacas and pectorals. Also notable were their statues of mythical beings, including some that were half human-half animal.

Pre-Columbian art encompasses the artefacts created by the indigenous peoples from the second millennium BC to the time of arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, when the existing culture were conquered by the Europeans. Beyond the more familiar civilisations such as the Incas and the Maya, smaller ethnic groups were able to develop their own distinctive cultures and artistic style. Many of these civilizations had long faded by the time of the first permanent European colonies and are known only through archaeological investigations and oral history. A very large proportion of pre-Columbian art is of terracotta.

A beautiful grey ware animal figure piece. Fascinating piece of the upper body of an animal, probably bird, with applied legs, round body, bulging eyes and long beak or snout. Relatively good condition. Age-related wear and old chip. Dirt, dust and soil. Lovely smoothed patina. Size approx. 4,7cm x 3,6 cm x 2,6cm. Weight c. 27 g.

Citations, references and sources:

Culture, Art and Power at Tulato in the Pacific Coast of Colombia and Ecuador, Diógenes Patiño, 2020, pp. 109‒115 (10.15406/jhaas.2020.05.00224.)

Three millennia of civilization between Colombia and Ecuador: The region of Tumaco La Tolita, Jean Francois Bouchard & Pierre Usselmann, Paris, CNRS Editions, 2003.

The La Tolita - Tumaco Culture: Master metalsmiths in gold and platinium, David. A. Scott, Latin American Antiquity Vol. 22, No. 1, Society for American Archaeology, 2011, pp. 65–95.

La Tolita, Intermediate, Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (http://precolombino.cl/)