By Mary W. Helms

This quantity brings a clean point of view to the multicolored Cocl? ceramic wares excavated at Sitio Conte in valuable Panama throughout the Nineteen Thirties. The Cocl? tradition was once a hierarchical and centralized society that flourished a couple of thousand years in the past. Many of those ceramic wares have been unearthed in caches and burials of elite figures. Cocl? artists adorned their ceramics with a mixture of geometrical kinds and full of life, picture depictions of curious birds and beasts. Helms sees in those polychromes a semiotic code expressing sociological and cosmological innovations of the Cocl? tradition. person chapters discover chromatics, serpents, mammals, birds and chook, physique components and tactics, the tree of existence, and different issues. This quantity is handsomely illustrated with black-and-white and colour plates and dozens of line drawings.

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The Coclé ceramic wares are characteristically multicolored and combine geometric forms with lively, very graphic depictions of curious birds and beasts. In typologies of prehistoric Panamanian ceramic styles they are designated as Conte polychrome (ca. D. 500-800) and as Macaracas polychrome (ca. D. 800-1100), but I will refer to them simply as Coclé polychromes since the finer stylistic distinction is not pertinent to this analysis (see Cooke 1985). Page 5 The ceramics are currently housed in Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

All of these depictions of creatures, contained within or emanating from the ovals of the serpent, may express the role of the Great Serpent as primordial source of life for various mythological and symbolically significant animal forms. These portrayals would be in general accord with myths identifying the serpent as source, by its blood, of the definitive zoological characteristics that identify given animal species and/or as source of living forms from its body. 3 However, a more negatively structured tale from the Miskito Coast of eastern Nicaragua is interesting in this context, too.

The design portrays a double-headed and legged creature with a long sinuous body form distinctively marked with alternating ovals and concave-sided rectangles. Although the legged creature may refer to a saurian, possibly an iguana (Helms 1977:108), the body markings are virtually identical to those of the red-tailed boa constrictor (Constrictor constrictor or Boa constrictor ortonii) shown in Fig. 7. As this figure shows, and as Fig. 8 illustrates (sketched while observing a red-tailed boa at the local science center), the characteristic body markings of the boa show a very clear repetitive pattern of ovals separated by darker, more or less rectangular patches with concave ends.

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