Articles
The Tarascan Tripods of Michoacan
The Mexican state known as Michoacan was probably settled 7,000 to 10,000 years ago by immigrants from Asia.  Its name comes from the Aztec Nahuatl word meaning “place of fishermen” which relates to the many lakes and rivers in the region teeming with fish.  By maybe as early as 1400 BC waves of native migrations began moving into the land that would come to be known as Michoacan and along with the surrounding West Mexico areas began making pottery items.  In the pre-Hispanic period of around AD 300 the Chupicaro people settled into the territory and they were replaced by the Purepecha natives who developed the formidable Purepecha Empire by around AD 1000.  These peoples are also known as the Tarascans and they formed the Tarascan State approximately AD 1300.  And they made pottery – lots of pottery.  During this post-classic time, these Purepecha natives began molding unique three leg bowls that would come to be known as the Tarascan tripods of Michoacan.

The natives of the Tarascan State were especially defensive of their territory and they became enemies of the Aztec people of more central Mexico during the time period of AD 1300 to into the first quarter of AD 1500.  Their wars lasted until the Spanish invaded Mexico in AD 1521 and subdued both the Aztec and Tarascan peoples. The Aztec nation attempted to invade the Tarascan homeland in the early sixteenth century and were repulsed.  When the Spanish attacked the Aztecs in 1521, these natives asked the Tarascans for help in defending their territfory but were refused because of the memory of the Aztec invasion.  The conquering Spaniards were especially brutal to all the natives in Mexico killing many and selling more into slavery.  But the remaining aborigines continued to make pottery.

It is now believed that most of these ceramic vessels were hand molded using the local red-brown to tan clays found in the Lake Patzcuaro region of Michoacan. The pots were air hardened and then fired in hot coals and left in their natural colors or were further emblished with various mineral pigment designs.  These mostly dichromic decorations were composed of thin colored clay paint slips in various motifs.  These painted themes included realistic, symbolic, geometric and pictographic patterns of daily observed scenes as well as godly revelations by using natural mineral colors found locally.  The tones were usually earthy reds and yellows and blacks from their fire charcoals.  Even though these natives made many types and shapes of vessels, the tripod bowls and plates seem to have been items of choice.  These three legged containers often had hollow limbs in which small pebbles were placed before they were normally completely sealed in the modeling process.  These so-called "rattle leg" vessels would have been used for food preparation and consumption and also were possibly placed in burials of family members.

Many hundreds of years have passed since these West Mexican inhabitants formed and used their hand made pottery vessels but we, today, are just as enthralled with this earthenware as they probably were then - the rare and beautiful Tarascan Tripods of Michoacan.

REFERENCES:
Bell, Betty, Editor       1974
    ARCHAEOLOGY OF WEST MEXICO
Coe, Michael D. & Rex Koontz     1994
    MEXICO: FROM OLMECS TO THE AZTECS
Gallagher, Jacki       1984
    COMPANIONS OF THE DEAD: CERAMIC TOMB SCULPTURE FROM
    ANCIENT WEST MEXIXO
Townsend, Richard FC. Editor     1958
    ANCIENT WEST MEXICO: ART & ARCHAEOLOGY OF THE UNKNOWN
    PAST
Von Winning, Hasso      1974
    THE SHAFT TOMB FIGURINES OF WEST MEXICO
Weigand, Phil C.       1996
    ANCIENT MESOAMERICA