About Face: A Head-On Examination of Pre-Columbian Social Identity

Author(s): Emilie LeBrell; Geoffrey McCafferty

Year: 2017


A desire for art to reflect social identity is made apparent through prolific representations of human faces in Pre-Columbian ceramics. The ceramic art of Greater Nicoya and the surrounding regions demonstrates an intrinsic drive to communicate distinct group characteristics and illustrates the importance of individuals’ bodies as instruments of both personal expression and social relationships. Physical expressions of collective identity foster a sense of belonging and satisfy the human desire for order and social organization in everyday life. External decoration and modification, hairstyle, tattooing, jewelry, and garment design are all important elements of both self and group identities. These varieties of ornamentation ultimately convey the importance of physical appearance as a device to communicate distinctive group traits. This paper seeks to decode the complex social messages conveyed by human faces on ceramic vessels and figurines from Greater Nicoya and neighboring areas. By gaining a better understanding of social identity through depictions of human faces in ceramic art, we can begin to understand more of the complex social messages and shared ideals of the enigmatic indigenous groups of Greater Nicoya and its neighboring regions.

Cite this Record

About Face: A Head-On Examination of Pre-Columbian Social Identity. Emilie LeBrell, Geoffrey McCafferty. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 431334)


Spatial Coverage

min long: -94.702; min lat: 6.665 ; max long: -76.685; max lat: 18.813 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15687