Crouching male figure

900–500 BCE
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General Description

This small, carved figurine depicts a crouching man. His genitals are exposed, and he has a pronounced beard, both of which are rare in Olmec art. The wrinkled-face, elderly man wears a fitted cap, and there are small holes on the earlobes, though further costume details are absent. The birthing pose is similar to that of bloodletting rituals in Classic Maya art, and there may be a similar association in this image. Alternatively, in Mesoamerican religion, ancestors are often merged into Mothers-Fathers or Fathers-Mothers. Among some native American peoples, men practice couvade: they share their wives' experience of childbirth. This Olmec sage is giving birth to the cosmos. The figure has two circles etched onto his buttocks, which, together with his genitals, form the Three-Stone-Place in the sky, a triangle of stars where First Father was reborn as Maize. Other circle-stars mark his arched spine, representing the Milky Way-World Tree rising northward out of the Three-Stone-Place as it does on August 13, creation eve. Therefore, this small crouching man embodies creation.

Drawn from

  • Carol Robbins, Label text, A. H. Meadows Galleries.

  • "Crouching male figure," in The Olmec world: ritual and rulership, ed. Michael Coe (New York: Princeton University and Harry N. Abrams, 1995), 299.