Articles

A Nayarit Crocodile Foot Bowl
The Mexican state of Nayarit is located on the southwestern side of the country and is one of the smallest provinces in the entire nation.  It is bordered by the states of Sinaloa, Durango, Jalisco and Zacatecas on its north, south and eastern boundaries and by the Pacific Ocean on its western edge.  Much of the state has rough volcanic and mountainous terrain except on the Pacific fringe where a sweltering climate exists.  Within this Pacific Ocean perimeter live many tropical birds and animals including the large reptile called the American Crocodile.  Maybe two thousand years ago, a native living in the land that was to become Nayarit made a unique black film tripod container with Crocodile replica feet applied to the top of the vessel legs.  Thus the potter created this unique Nayarit Crocodile foot bowl.

The current belief is that humans began moving into the southwestern region of Mexico 7,000 to 10,000 years ago.  These would have been small families and/or bands of unrelated hunters and gathers.   They would have been almost constantly on the move searching for new lands in order to find game to kill and plants to harvest.  By around 1,000 BC, some of these natives had settled into villages or colonies and began building homes and planting and cultivating their own plants to eat.  They were apparently self governed and were deciples to several mythical deities including Tayau the supreme god along with his wife Tetewan, the goddess of the underworld.  And they had a son, whose name was Sautari, and who ruled over agriculture, especially the staple maize or corn.  As well as having become competent farmers, these natives became very prolific potttery artisans.

Sometime in the 700-300 BC time frame, these people, for whom we have no cultural names or languages, began digging shaft graves possibly for the burial of the deceased elite of their villages.  These tombs were narrow passages sunk vertically into the volcanic sub-surface and ending in small to large chambers.  In these sepulchers, they interred their dead along with pottery and food items for the departed in the afterlife.  Many of these polychrome and monochrome ceramic offerings were grotesque submortal monstrosities that had little physical appearance to the humans who made them.  Today there is not a clear understanding of what these pottery mutation entities actually depicted, though there are strong beliefs that they represented mythological gods.  Since thse natives had no writing system, neither alphabetical nor pictographic, we, today, do not definatively know just what these earthenware objects represented.  But we do believe that many of these shaft tomb ceramics were apparently just food holdng vessels.

This beautifully made tripodal bowl is 3 1/16" tall by 6 5/8" in diameter at the top of the everted rim. It is, most likely, typical area redware ceramics that was made by coiling snake-like spirals of clay, one on top of another, until the desired size and shape of the container was acheived at which point it was smoothed overall.  In this case the desired vessel was a small and low bowl shape.  It was further altered by  applying three formed clay legs onto the bowl sides.  At some point small crocodile feet replicas were applied at the top of each leg either before or after the legs were positioned onto the bowl exterior.  Then a small hollow cane would have been used to press five circular indentations between the legs around the exterior wall.  The pot would have then been placed in or near the hot coals of an open fire until acceptably baked.  The thin black ceramic paint would have  been put onto the entirety of the container before or after firing depending on the objective of the potter.  The vessels made by these people were never glazed but after cooling enough, the artisan would have burnished the exterior, and occasionally the interior, of the container to a glossy luster by probably using a smooth sea shell or river rock.  At that time this bowl would have then been ready for foods to be ladeled into it for immediate human consumption or to be placed inside a shaft tomb with after-life nutriments.  This vessel was probably made in the 400 BC to AD 300 time frame and there is no way, today, to determine if was actually placed in a grave or simply used for ingestion of food  by the living people.  It was legally acquired in the early 1950's by a physician from South Carolina who is now deceased and who left little information about just how he obtained it - only what it is and from where it came. The bowl remained in his home for almost sixty years until his passing and then moved into my collection.  Whatever was its final usage, be it grave goods or for human sustenance, it certainly is now an extremely rare Nayarit Crocodile foot bowl.
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Adams, Richard E. W.                                  2005
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