Figurines are small clay representations, usually of humans but occasionally in animal form. They have been used in Pacific Nicaragua from the earliest times, at least c. 500 BCE. Female figurines are the most common forms, and occurred in remarkably similar poses for 2000 years. During the Sapoá period figurines began to be mold-made, with greater attention to painted decoration.
The cultural function of figurines is not well-defined. Fragments are found in domestic contexts, so they were obviously part of household practice, perhaps functioning as toys. But others are found intact in mortuary contexts, with a ritual function. The fact that the majority represent females, and their forms and postures remained relatively unchanged for nearly 2000 years suggests cultural continuity in their symbolism. Were these representations of female shamans? Political leaders? Deities? At present we can only speculate.
The most common form of male gendered figurines was as hunchbacks.
Figurines present diverse characteristics of embodiment and representations of ‘self.’ Anthropologists consider the body as a ‘canvas’ for presentation of social identities, including gender, age, and ethnicity. By carefully studying the physical characteristics and costume elements on figurines, distinctions can be made that reveal the cultural mosaic of ancient Nicaragua. For example, different hair styles and headdresses were used to characterize status. Different groups used costume variation, including clothing as well as tattooing, as a means of identification. Thus figurines provide the best opportunity for understanding social relations in pre-Columbian times.
La forma más común de figurillas del género masculino es como jorobado.
Figurines with costume elements such as textiles, animal skins, and ear spools.