1100 AD to 1500 AD
5.1″ (13.0cm) high x 15″ (38.1cm) wide
This fascinating carving consists of a broad, slightly curved surface resting on four feet. The face that protrudes from the anterior end has both zoomorphic and anthropomorphic features. This combination is typical of Taino art and is related to their religious beliefs. According to Taino creation myths, animals were among their most distant ancestors and it was also thought that the souls of the dead could be reborn in animal form. The flat surface is decorated with lightly incised bands of geometric motifs including circles, spirals and parallel lines. Although difficult to reconstruct today, these symbols undoubtedly had some kind of cosmological significance for the Taino.
There are several possibilities as to the function of this piece. The form is closely related to that of the duho- Taino seats that were used at important ceremonies, such as the ball-games or during cohoba rituals. These often had high- backs but some flat examples in stone are known. The majority of duhos were carved in wood and c.100 examples survive. Their production and distribution were controlled by the Taino chieftains (caciques) and only those of the highest rank were permitted to use them. The second possibility is that this is a metate, i.e. a grinding surface for grain, seeds or the hallucinogenic cohoba. Metates were common throughout the Pre-Columbian world; the most well-known examples come from Costa Rica and were fashioned from volcanic stone. Given the time and effort expended on the carving of this example, it is unlikely to have been used for everyday food preparation. The most convincing interpretation is that it was part of the elaborate paraphernalia, including pestles, amulets and zemi-sculptures, employed during cohoba ceremonies. Taino religious leaders, or shamans, were thought to be able to communicate with the dead after entering a trance-like state. This is an exceptional and rare Taino artifact that will appeal to any ambitious collector of Pre- Columbian art.