When the Mogollon cultures of the American Southwest region formed between 200 and 400 CE, their early ceramics were simple, with little to no design. Around 800 CE, the Mogollon began producing pottery with geometric patterns, likely as a result of trade with and influences from the neighboring Hisatsinom (also known as the Anasazi) culture, and by 900 CE, the subculture of the Mogollon known as the Mimbres peoples had started producing some of the most famous finely crafted ceramics of the ancient Southwest. Mimbres vessels take the form of hemispherical bowls that are painted white on the interior and then decorated with geometric patterns and figural designs, as demonstrated in the simple patterns of the Linear Design Black-on-White Painted Bowl; over time, these designs became progressively more skillfully executed and complex. Given the inclusion of ceramic tools in ancient female graves, the long history of female ceramists in the American Southwest, and the similar techniques used to make both ancient and contemporary pottery, women were the most likely creators of these ancient Mimbres works of art.
Because the majority of Mimbres vessels are found placed over the face of the deceased, in burials for people of all ages, and because most of the vessels were ritually “killed” with a hole punched through the bottom, most scholars believe that Mimbres vessels held their greatest significance as ceremonial funerary objects. Other scholars have observed, however, that many Mimbres vessels show some use-wear on the interior sides, suggesting that prior to being used as grave offerings, the bowls may have been used for mixing substances, for serving or eating food, or for temporary storage and dispensing. Some bowls have also been found as they were left behind, on the floors of dwellings, suggesting that they were used at least briefly during life. The vessels thus may also have been status symbols in life, but were placed in graves because of their symbolic importance to the deceased and their families.
For more information, you may contact the researcher(s) noted in the title of this exhibit entry, or Dr. Billie Follensbee, the professor of the course, at BillieFollensbee@MissouriState.edu