Hollow pottery figures such as this are referred to as "baby-faces," since their plump bodies and facial features are similar to those of an infant. The eyes are almond-shaped, elliptical or a simple slit. A protruding head, probably the result of cranial deformation, is another common feature. They are usually seated, with legs spread and arms raised or resting on their legs. Infants were a recurring theme in Olmec art.
Baby-face figurines often present a mixture of human and animal traits, with features such as a feline mouth with down-turned low corners, a flaring upper lip and 'flaming' eyebrows. Their bodies are naked and show no indication of gender. These "were-jaguar" infants are also carved on monumental altars and stone sculptures, lying on the lap or in the arms of a person.
The different sections of the body were produced separately and joined together at a later stage. The finished product was covered by a thick white slip and then polished to a lustrous appearance. Red cinnabar or haematite powder was often applied to highlight symbolic details or features incised on the figures. These pigments were also used in human burials and probably had a significant role in Olmec rituals.
One rare find of a group of Olmec figurines, excavated in situ, revealed standing figures arranged in a semicircle, apparently engaged in an act of collective veneration or worship. This figure may once have formed part of such a scene.
© The British Museum
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- Why were the different sections of the body produced separately? And how were they joined together?(4 votes)
- It's easier to find and put multiple smaller pieces together than to find a huge rock and chisel it down. I would imagine they were joined by some sort of bond, though I'm not sure what was available to them.(4 votes)
- How did the Olmec carve the statue? Jade is really hard, I tried breaking it and I hurt myself instead.(3 votes)
- OUCH I know that had to hurt.
They had special tools to carve those.
- I think it is possible that there may have been some metal tools and I hope that scientists take it into account that metal rusts. It is known that there was plenty of gold in the Americas so there could have been tools made of other types of metal at one time but they just rusted away.(2 votes)
- Why do they have Baby faces carved the statues. I don't know if it's there religion or not but.... yeah.(1 vote)
- Baby faces represent something in there culture. Carving them in to statues is a way they could love and appreciate them.(2 votes)
- The range of dates for the figure, 1200 BC - 400 AD, is pretty wide. Have they narrowed down the date range for other baby-face figures? Or, indeed, any other Olmec artifacts?(1 vote)
- The date range is based on when the Olmec society was active. It could be possible to study the differences between items made by early Olmecs and later Olmecs to narrow down the date range but it will always be a relatively wide range. Also there are scientific methods to determine the age of objects but they generally are not very effective on stone items as stones are millions of years old.(2 votes)
- This is fascinating information I wonder if make something out of Jade too(1 vote)
- How about adding a LOT more photos of Olmec figures? Including the group of figures referred to in the last paragraph.(1 vote)
- What manifestations of Olmec culture can we find today? Perhaps the deity of baby Jesus? Any comments from the anthropomorphic community?(0 votes)
- The deity of the baby Jesus is not a manifestation of Olmec culture, it exists in ancient churches of Africa, India and Europe. An emphasis on worship of Jesus as a baby, though, may be a particularly apt way of incorporating Olmec iconography into part of the Jesus story. It may also be a place of connection between a people who revered "babylike" appearance with the Christian gospel.(0 votes)