Funeral urn

© 2001 Fernando Chaves

Caretas Cave

Caretas Cave

The people of ancient Maracá on the Lower Amazon made pottery human figurines like this to hold the bones of their dead relatives, helping the living to keep in contact with their spirits.

For Amazonians, death was the last stage through which a person passed during life, changing once again their relationship with their relatives. In the Maracá region, as elsewhere, a dead body was first allowed to decay and then the bones were gathered and stored where their living relatives could pray for help and support for their spirit.

The urns are shaped like a seated man or woman, according to the gender of the dead person. The formal pose of the figure, with body upright and hands resting on the knees, is the way people sit in the company of someone they respect, perhaps showing the importance of proper etiquette in dealings between the living and the dead. These particular urns were stored in caves, where some were discovered in the late nineteenth century, half buried in soil which had accumulated over the centuries. Others were found during further research in the late twentieth century.

Other Views: The Caretas Cave, where more than one hundred such urns were found.