Barrigón – the “little potbellied one” – looks mysterious. The 800-kilogram boulder from Guatemala’s coastal lowlands probably represents a deity. At around 2,500 years old, he provides clues to a very early settlement phase in Central America.
At just over 120 centimetres high and weighing 800 kilograms, this stone figure from Mesoamerica appears powerful and imposing. And despite the closed eyes it seems to have an astonishing presence.
The figure was fashioned from the boulder using stone tools. The front is formed using a few striking lines, reduced to the essential features. It appears as if the shape of the original material decisively influenced the design. The face and the neckless body appear fat, almost swollen. In comparison to the face, the hands are only roughly modelled. The rear of the boulder is almost completely unworked.
It can only be speculated as to what meaning it had for the people of its time. The genderless form of the Barrigón and the striking facial features, which can also be found on other figures from this time, would suggest that this statue from Guatemala is a deity.
However, the “little potbellied one” remains mysterious. What is certain is that this archaeological find takes us back to an early phase in the settlement of Central America, about which we know very little because there were no written records, but certainly before the heyday of the Maya culture. As there are various find spots with similar figures, it can be assumed that Guatemala’s coastal region was already settled by independent, regional chiefdoms between 300 and 500 BCE.
Barrigón and two further figures were found around 1860 during forest clearance for a coffee plantation on land belonging to Finca Concepción, owned by the French Baron Oscar du Teil. Following his death, the trustee of the underage heirs donated the figure to the Königliches Museum für Völkerkunde. In future the Barrigón, who has come from the collection of the Ethnologisches Museum in Dahlem, can be seen on the second floor of the Humboldt Forum.
Now to be seen in the Neues Museum on Museumsinsel, in future in the museums on the second floor of the Humboldt Forum.
International experts, eye witnesses and representatives from the Humboldt Forum will be adressing questions in various conversations. They will weave exciting stories and histories from different cultures and epochs, current research results and personal experiences to create surprising and sometimes astounding narratives.
Don't know — know — never know?
April 4, 2018
Discover the first Humboldt Forum Highlights in the Pergamonmuseum, Altes Museum and Neues Museum on Museum Island. The Highlights will be on display until october 2019.
The first 15 of these Humboldt Forum Highlights will be presented between October 2018 and May 2019 in two formats: in an exhibition as well as during conversations that will be held at various locations in Berlin.