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Dog Effigy Vessel, 250 B.C.E. - 400 C.E.

Culture: Colima, Mexico (State of Colima)

Medium: Polished terra-cotta

9 1/4 x 16 x 7 1/2 in. (23.5 x 40.6 x 19.1 cm)

Credit Line: Gift of Dr. Rushton E. Patterson, Jr.

Object Number: 96.6.1

Not on view

Dr. Rushton E. Patterson, Jr., Memphis, Tennessee, 1996

Dog Effigy Vessel was found at an ancient burial site in the Colima region on the Pacific coast of western Mexico. Although lacking the spectacular pyramids of other pre-Columbian Mexican societies, until about 600 C.E. the peoples of Colima built elaborate underground tombs where the dead would be surrounded by objects used in life such as axes, jewelry, cutting blades, and a variety of ceramic goods. This vessel represents a hairless dog, indigenous to meso-America and cultivated in western Mexico, known as xoloitzcuintli (as later named by the Aztecs). They were bred for companionship, protection, and food, which this ceramic dog would also symbolize for the deceased in the afterlife. An ancient breed, xoloitzcuintlis were believed to have descended from survivors of a disastrous world flood in pre-Columbian Mexican mythology. Its story reflects the importance of dogs to humans throughout the ages. Known today as the chihuahua, this animal has become a potent symbol of the Mexican cultural identity.


The figure’s short and plump physique is intentionally exaggerated to the point of distortion, a characteristic of Colima-area potters, who favored stylistic caricature over faithful naturalism. Hand modeled rather than carved, effigy pots of this sort were made of highly burnished red clay, which resulted in a bright polish that still shines after so many centuries. Its standing pose is that of the obedient pet awaiting its master’s command. Ears held high and eyes wide open, it appears alert and poised for action.