On February 9, 2015, the Primitive Ceramics class at College of Marin went on a field trip to the De Young museum in San Francisco. Our teacher, Bill Abright gave us an in depth tour of the ceramics sections including the Land collection in the Art of the Americas.

I was intrigued with one mysterious figure in a display case that appeared to be a laughing toddler. Bill told us about one theory saying that this figure could represent a sacrificial victim that has been intoxicated with a psychedelic that was part of the ritual and intended to ease the individual's suffering to come.

Where was it from? Who made it? When?

This and many similar figures are from the Vera Cruz area during the Remojadas era of 100-800ce.

What was it used for?

This is unknown. Hopefully, it replaced a human victum.

What techniques were used?

Clay slabs were pressed into a mold and stamps were used to add detail. Notice the similar face of the DeYoung figure and the one at the Met pictured below.

Why do you relate to it as your choice for this assignment?

I was curious about the possible use of psychedelics or intoxicants to relieve the suffering and terror of the victum. They would have to have been pretty stoned!

What does it mean to you?

The figure appears naive and enthusiastic. Why would a victum cooperate knowing they will soon die be so happy?


Research for Mesoamerican art piece at De Young


information on this figure at the De Young is very brief!
Standing smiling figure holding a rattle
6th–8th century A.D.
Remojadas Culture


Remojadas information on Wikipedia -

Remojadas is a name applied to a culture, an archaeological site, as well as an artistic style that flourished on Mexico's Veracruz Gulf Coast from perhaps 100 BCE to 800 CE. The Remojadas culture is considered part of the larger Classic Veracruz culture.[1] Further research into the Remojadas culture is "much needed".[2] The archaeological site has remained largely unexplored since the initial investigations by Alfonso Medellin Zenil in 1949 and 1950.....

Many figurines have filed teeth, representing a common practice in the Remojadas culture. The earliest figurines were handmade while the later ones were created using molds. In style and in other ways, the figurines have a close kinship with Maya figurines.[5]

The Sonrientes (smiling faces) are the most well-known of Remojadas figurines, featuring wide smiles on curiously shaped—almost triangular—faces. Often the heads are disembodied. Other times they are attached to childlike bodies with outstretched arms and displayed palms. The smile is rather formalised, usually showing teeth and, on occasion, a tongue sticking out between the teeth.

Male sorientes are nude or wear loinclothes. Females wear skirts. Both are usually adorned with pectoral bands and/or necklaces, as well as some type of headdress. The headdress, and often the skirts, display a glyph-like emblem or a stylized animal.[6]

Smiling figurines are rare in Mesoamerican art, and the sheer number of Sonrientes figurines likely attests to their special role in the Remojadas society, although what that role might be has produced much speculation. Some researchers see the characteristic smile as being hallucinogenically produced [7] (see note below) or perhaps the result of consumption of the alcoholic pulque.[8] One researcher boldly states that they are "undoubtedly related to the cult of the dead".[9] However, Mary Ellen Miller and Karl Taube find that "it is more likely that many of the smiling figures represent performers".[10]

6- Medillin Zenil, p. 163-168.
7- Davies, p. 91. ---- This same book says the figures are all female! “...The most familar of all are the smiling female heads, whose expression almost recalls Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. In spite of their frozen, enigmatic smiles, the realities of Ancient Mexico make it more likely that they were sacrificial victums, their look of anguish masked by a simulated grin induced by a hallucinogenic draught.” That is all this whole book says about these figures or psychedelics. The figures look nothing like the Mona Lisa!
8- Metropolitan Museum of Art.
9- Ochoa, p. 68.
10- Miller & Taube, p. 156.
11- Coe (2002), p. 119.

Coe, M; Snow, D; Benson, E; (1986) Atlas of Ancient America; Facts on File, New York.
Coe, M.D. (2002); Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs Thames and Hudson, London.
Covarrubias, Miguel (1957) Indian Art of Mexico and Central America, Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
Davies, Nigel (1983) The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico, Penguin Books, London.
Diehl, Richard A.; Mandeville, Margaret D. (1987), "Tula, and wheeled animal effigies in Mesoamerica", in Antiquity, vol. 61, no. 232; July 1987.
Medillin Zenil, Alfonso; Frederick A. Peterson (1954) "A Smiling Head Complex from Central Veracruz, Mexico" in American Antiquity, Vol. 20, No. 2. (Oct., 1954), pp. 162-169.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Smiling" Figure, URL: Accessed: 2012-02-12. (Archived by WebCite® at
Miller, Mary Ellen; Karl Taube (1993). The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05068-6. Invalid |name-list-format=scap (help)
Ochoa, Lorenzo (2000) "Remojadas" in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures ed. Carrasco, Davíd, Oxford University Press.
Speight, Charlotte; Toki, John (2003) Hands in Clay: An Introduction to Ceramics, McGraw-Hill, New York.


SOnrientesThe Met
The so-called Smiling Figures from the Remojadas region of Veracruz are often regarded as expressions of Mesoamerican humor. These hollow ceramic sculptures are thought by many to be associated with a god of dance, music, and joy. Another compelling interpretation, however, relates them to a cult of pulque, an intoxicating beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant. The animated faces, puffy cheeks, and swollen protruding tongues are regarded as evidence of intoxication. The figures may depict ritual participants, or even sacrificial victims. The survival of many more smiling Remojadas heads than bodies suggest to some a possible ceremonial decapitation and destruction of the bodies. This bare-chested figure, with open mouth and filed teeth, stands energetically with legs spread and arms lifted as if caught in mid-motion. The garb of this celebrant consists of circular earrings, a beaded necklace and bracelet along with a loincloth decorated with laterally symmetrical patterns. On his cap are ollin symbols, a sign for movement of the earth. This sculpture evokes a festive dance or ritual accompanied by the rhythmic reverberation of the hand-held rattle and celebratory sound escaping from the figure's open mouth.


Pulque info from Wikipedia

Pulque 'pulke (help·info) is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey (agave) plant. It is traditional to central Mexico, where it has been produced for millennia. It has the color of milk, somewhatviscous consistency and a sour yeast-like taste.[1] The drink’s history extends far back into the Mesoamerican period, when it was considered sacred, and its use was limited to certain classes of people.[2] After the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, the drink became secular and its consumption rose.[3] The consumption of pulque reached its peak in the late 19th century.[4] In the 20th century, the drink fell into decline, mostly because of competition from beer, which became more prevalent with the arrival of European immigrants. There are some efforts to revive the drink’s popularity through tourism.[3]

Pulque is a milk-colored, somewhat viscous liquid that produces a light foam. It is made by fermenting the sap of certain types of maguey (agave) plants. In contrast, mezcal is made from the cooked heart of certain agave plants, and tequila, a variety of mezcal, is made all or mostly from the blue agave. About six varieties of maguey are best used for the production of pulque.[1][2] The name pulque is derived from Nahuatl. The original name of the drink was iztāc octli /ˈistaːk ˈokt͡ɬi/ (white pulque), the term pulque was probably mistakenly derived by the Spanish from the octli poliuhqui /ˈokt͡ɬi poˈliwki/, which meant "spoiled pulque".[5]
Pre-Hispanic period
The maguey was one of the most sacred and important plants in ancient Mexico, having a privileged place in mythology, religious rituals and the Mesoamerican economy. During this period, pulque appears in a number of graphic representations. Pulque first appears on stone carvings about 200 CE. The first major work involving pulque is a large mural called the "Pulque Drinkers" which was unearthed in 1968 during excavations at the pyramid of Cholula, Puebla. The most likely means of the discovery of aguamiel and fermented pulque was from the observation of rodents who gnaw and scratch at the plant to drink the seeping sap. Fermentation of the aguamiel can take place within the plant itself.[12]

For the Indians of the central highlands of Mexico, the imbibing of pulque was done only by certain people, under certain conditions. It was a ritual drink, consumed during certain festivals, such as that of the goddess Mayahuel, and the god Mixcoatl. It was drunk by priests and sacrificial victims, to increase the priests' enthusiasm and to ease the suffering of the victim.[2] There are many references in Aztec codices, such as the Borbonicus Codex) of pulque's use by nobility and priesthood to celebrate victories. Among commoners, it was permitted only to the elderly and pregnant women.[13] Production of pulque was ritualized and the brewers were superstitious. They would abstain from sex during the fermentation period because they believed that sexual intercourse would sour the process.[14]

Health benefits
There is a saying that pulque "sólo le falta un grado para ser carne" -- "it is only a bit shy of being meat", referring to the nutritional value of the drink.[28] This was recognized by the Mesoamericans, who allowed pregnant women and the elderly to imbibe what was normally reserved only for priests and nobility. Modern analysis of the liquid has found that it contains carbohydrates, vitamin C, B-complex, D, E, amino acids and minerals such asiron and phosphorus.[4][10]
^ Jump up to:a b c "Aztecs' Sacred Drink Pulque Losing Out to Beer in Mexico". Medindia. 2007-11-23. Retrieved 12 September 2009.
^ Jump up to:a b c d e f Del Maguey, Single Village Mezcal. "What is Pulque?". Retrieved 11 September 2009.
^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Bonnefoy, Anne (October 2007). "Haciendas pulqueras de Apan y Zempoala" [Pulque haciendas in Apan and Zempoala] (in Spanish). Retrieved 11 September 2009.
^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k l "The story of pulque (or Mayan Madness!)". Retrieved 11 September 2009.


More photos of Sonrientes-


This is the one on wikipedia- I believe its in a museum in Denver but I can't find that info again.

  Back to Pots Page