ANIMISM IN THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST by Christine S. VanPool and Elizabeth Newsome

People often imbue their surroundings, including tools, with a “life essence” that makes them active objects. A growing number of archaeologists are beginning to study how such “living” beings impact human behavior. These archaeologists use the term “object agency,” but employ many different ontological approaches. We explore this variation, and present a framework comparing different ontological models archaeologists use. We adopt an animistic perspective, and evaluate its applicability to the Southwest using ethnographic and archaeological data. We further propose that it is applicable through out the New World. Puebloan potters consider pots living beings with a spiritual essence that is affected by and that impacts humans. Pottery manufacture is a mutual negotiation between the potter and the clay to create a “Made Being” with its own spiritual and material aspects. We conclude that a similar ontology is reflected in effigy pots and globular jars from the Casas Grandes region. Ultimately we conclude that this perspective provides useful insights into the placement, decoration, and discard of many vessels that have puzzled Southwestern archaeologists for decades.

A Female Casas Grandes effigy jar. Photo Christine S. VanPool 1999. Used with Permission

Author(s): Christine S. VanPool and Elizabeth Newsome

Duplicated and Intended for Art Educational Purposes Only

Author(s): Christine S. VanPool and Elizabeth Newsome
Source: American Antiquity, Vol. 77, No. 2 (April 2012), pp. 243-262
Published by: Society for American Archaeology
Stable URL:
Accessed: 02-03-2015 22:47 UTC

Featured image: Fully formed Human Effigy Vessel. Courtesy of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles. Photographed by Chris Coleman.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: