Pre-Columbian, Ecuador, Earliest Horizon, Valdivian culture, ca. 2300 to 2000 BCE. A finely-carved limestone plaque depicting a highly-abstract owl with folded wings, petite legs, a trapezoidal head with square-form eyes, and a delineated neck line just above a downward-pointed triangular beak. The avian details are deeply carved with strong straight and angular lines along the obverse face, and the verso is unadorned. The aesthetic is remarkably in line with the penchant for minimalism that appeals to our modern sensibilities and, yet, bespeaks of the ancient world. Size: 5.7" W x 8.2" H (14.5 cm x 20.8 cm); 8.625" H (21.9 cm) on included custom stand.
Ancient stone stelae from Ecuador, like this example, are some of the oldest stone sculptures known to exist in the Americas, dating as far back as 3500 BCE. Certainly each stele is unique; however, they do share a few common characteristics. They are usually carved from a pearly grey stone and are for the most part "blockish" in form, though this example shows rounded contours. The four most prominent themes of ancient Valdivian artistry include owls like this example, the "serpent/arrow," the sun chart, and the star chart.
The owl was widely symbolic in the Pre-Columbian world. Owls were considered to be of shamanic importance by many, guiding humans on their journeys to other worlds, the divine, and death. In some cultures, an anthropomorphic owl represents a warrior of great prominence or a god of war. As a nocturnal bird of prey, the owl was also associated with night hunters, darkness, and even the underworld itself.
Provenance: private New York, New York, USA collection; ex-private Patrick Hardy collection, Texas, USA
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Head reattached to neck with some stabilization material along break lines. Minor abrasions and nicks to obverse, peripheries, and verso, with light encrustations. Light earthen deposits throughout.