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Crocodile Effigy Vessel (work of art)

Artwork Info

circa 300–1100
Costa Rican (Guanacaste-Nicoya Zone)
Height, width, and depth:
5 1/8 x 15 1/4 x 7 1/8 inches (13 x 38.7 x 18.1 centimeters)


Gift of Dr. Clifton F. Mountain and Mrs. Marilyn T. Mountain

Ancient American

Key Ideas

  • In Mesoamerican art and archeology, an effigy is a container or vessel that represents a human or animal. 
  • It is possible that this crocodile effigy served as an incense burner. Incense rituals were important in Mesoamerica and Central America. The ritual of burning incense connected people to the spirit world and the gods and goddesses. 
  • This piece is considered functional art. It is art that serves a function, but it is also designed artistically, for the purpose of displaying beauty.

Learn More

Like eagles and jaguars in different habitats, crocodiles are at the top of the food chain and are ferocious predators without animal enemies. Because of their power, they were considered sacred by ancient peoples in southern Central America. This effigy vessel, a symbolic representation of a crocodile, devotes most of its form to the head filled with frightening teeth. The head and tail are protected by bony plates that form an armored shield.

Ancient Americans’ understanding of their world was centered on the belief that certain animals and people could communicate with the spiritual world. Their rituals were performed by specialists who were believed to be able to transform themselves into one of the powerful animals. While in a trance, these men or women sought answers to problems such as sickness and social disagreement, and needs such as food and fertility. The ritual trances were brought about by chants, drumming, or drinking extracts from plants.

tags: symmetry, environment, function, ecosystem, ceremony

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  • A crocodile-shaped ceramic vessel.

    Crocodile Effigy Vessel

  • A crocodile-shaped ceramic vessel.

    Crocodile Effigy

  • A crocodile-shaped ceramic vessel.

    Crocodile Effigy