This striking 1.5-foot-tall ceramic vessel, painted with bold colors and intricate designs to resemble the head and body of a man, is actually a drum, used by the Nasca culture of ancient Peru more than 2,000 years ago. The figure’s knobby head, decorated with a horned headband and wide eyes outlined by two whale-like creatures, was the bottom of the drum, most likely held between the thighs. The hollow, bulbous body of the vessel, which functioned as the drum’s sounding chamber, shows the figure’s arms, legs and torso, as well as a serpent that emerges from beneath his chin. His legs, shown drawn up in the front, sit atop the drum’s neck and wide mouth. This opening was covered by a stretched piece of prepared skin, which served as the instrument’s playing surface.
Drums and other instruments were an important element in the ritual ceremonies of the Nasca culture, which flourished along the narrow river valleys of Peru’s southern coast from c. 100 B.C.E. to 700 C.E. Although the Nasca peoples did not build major cities or organize themselves into large territorial states, they often came together at major ceremonial centers, such as Cahuachi, where they could observe from on high the huge geoglyphs (known today as the Nasca Lines) etched into the surrounding landscape.