Connor Middleton, Class of 2022:

Zapotec Effigy Urn with Ancestor Embodying the
Storm God from Oaxaca, Mexico

Virtual Exhibit video

Life, Death, and Divinity: Preserved Embodiments in Zapotec Effigy Vessels


This paper will introduce Zapotec culture, affixing the society’s location in space and time, and offer an overview of their religious beliefs and cosmovision before exploring the iconography and functionality of Zapotec effigy vessels or urns as a whole and then specific to the two objects from the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) collection. Both vessels, though distinct in terms of symbolism, depictions, and therefore differing in function to some degree​,​ share many similarities. Varying degrees of scholarship have been conducted on the different life stages of Zapotec effigy vessels from their creation, ritual use, and final entombment. In this paper, those previous findings will be organized, presented, and brought into conversation with each other to offer both a holistic understanding of how these objects were important to the culture and what specific roles the two urns from WCMA served, in addition to offering a more informed estimate of their origins.

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