FIG. 7 (left):
Another view of the object
shown in fi gure 1, found
near the confl uence of the
Amazon and Trombetas
Rivers. On the sides are two
heads clasped by huge claws.
Musée Dobrée, Nantes, inv. 887-13-1.
fi nd such implements within the context of a Pre-Columbian
site. Luck sometimes goes the researcher’s
way, though, since some of these tablets were made
of stone and, consequently, some have survived.
Stones for Powder
In order to ingest their preferred powder, the
Pre-Columbian peoples of the equatorial rainforest
also fashioned small yet artful stone sculptures.
Those that have been found come from the lower
Amazon River region where the Trombetas and
Tapajos Rivers run into the Amazon, near what today
is the town of Obidos. Unfortunately, none have
been unearthed during the course of archaeological
digs but were instead just fortuitous discoveries.
Consequently, no context can be reliably identifi ed
or defi ned for them. They are nonetheless extremely
rare and only about thirty specimens are known to
exist. These are primarily in Brazilian museums, but
a few are also in Swedish and British ones, as anthropologists
from Sweden and England were active
in Amazonia in the early twentieth century. They attracted
attention because their perennial nature and
unusual appearance contrasted with other objects in
a context predominated by objects in clay, wood,
feathers, and any number of perishable materials.
These stone carvings represent a variety of beings,
but they all give the impression of being part of an
“extended family.” What is certain is that all are
the work of skilled and experienced sculptors, who
clearly were masters of the techniques of lithic art.
The sculptures are made of a soft stone, light green
or reddish beige in color, that is easily scraped and
worked. Almost all have a cavity within them for
holding the hallucinogenic powder. The other feature
these artifacts share is the presence of a pair
of perforations, which in fact are a defi ning factor
for the identifi cation of this object type. These two
perfectly round holes may or may not go completely
through the object. It has been suggested that they
were used to hold the inhalation straws, but this
seems unlikely. Similarly, the absence of wear along
the edges of the holes indicates that cordage was not
threaded through them.
The two fi gurines in Nantes were discovered on
the banks of Lake Sapacua at the mouth of the
FIG. 6 (above):
Sculpture of a serpent
fl anked by two fi sh, sent in
the 19th century to Nantes
by Fr. Cullère.
Musée Dobrée, inv. 886-6-2.