A fine Nasca Hummingbird Bowl, Peru, Early Intermediate (Monumental) Period, ca. 100 B.C. - 175 A.D.

This very fine bowl portrays a frieze of five hummingbirds on a cream ground.  The birds are beautifully portrayed with a dazzling array of earthy orange, brown, red, grey and black polychrome.

Two thousand years ago, a new ceramic tradition emerged on the south coast of Peru. It was distinguished by the use of polychrome slip paints applied to both effigy vessels as well as a broad range of utilitarian shapes. Named “Nasca” after the major river valley where it was found, this pottery is now recognized as among the finest made by any of the Pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas.  

The “Early” or “Monumental” phases of Nasca design exhibit a broad range of plants and animals present in the environment. Some were sources of food: corn, beans, peppers, squash and local plants such as achira, lucuma, jiquima and manioc. We also find maritime creatures such as fish (anchovies, corvina, bonito, and many other species), sharks, killer whales, shrimp, crabs, eels, etc.  Animals include foxes, monkeys, llamas and alpacas, guinea pigs, mice, pampas cats, and deer. A wide range of birds are also carefully depicted so that exact species are identifiable: hummingbirds of several types, the Inca tern, egrets, condors, ducks, cormorants, herons, falcons, owls, etc. Completing the list of naturalistic items are insects, frogs and toads, snakes, lizards, and pollywogs.

It has been argued these representations are a "sacred interrelated system laden with symbolic meaning" (Carmichael; 1994:81) while others suggest the "vast majority of naturalistic motifs simply celebrate the natural world of the Nasca"(Proulx; 2007:6).  But there is no doubt that when looking at Nasca ceramic art, one is immediately struck by the relative paucity of scenes of everyday life and by the prevalence of supernatural creatures, natural objects and geometric designs.

Condition:  Two minor chips to the rim and one small loss to the tail of one bird (shown in the first photo) that does not detract.  A very fine example.

Dimensions:  Diameter 6.25 inches (15.9 cm) Height: 2.95 inches (7.5 cm)

Provenance:  Gifted to Prof. Maria Diez in the early 1960's by a Peruvian student and then by descent.  Display case with original labeling included.


Carmichael, Patrick "The Life from Death Continuum in Nasca Imagery" (1994) Andean Past 4:81-90.

Proulx, Donald A., "Nasca Ceramic Iconography: An Overview" (2007) University of Massachusetts  

Proulx, Donald A., "The Nasca Culture: An Introduction" (2007) University of Massachusetts.



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