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The figurative painting on the bowls—sophisticated composite animals and complex scenes and stories—sets Mimbres pottery apart from that of neighboring cultures, where geometric shapes dominated.

Then, in 1130, according to the archaeological record, the manufacture of the bowls stopped.

Thereafter, archaeological work stalled until the 1970s, though looting of Mimbres sites persisted.

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Marks found on their interiors suggest they were scraped by people using spoons, which were probably made from gourd or wood since none survive.

The bowls measure roughly four inches tall and vary from six to 16 inches in diameter.

“I’m not sure it was as big a change for them as it was for us.” The first decorations on Mimbres pottery—simple geometric shapes in red on brown clay—appear around A. By about the late 900s, the exceptional design that came to define the Mimbres Classic period took off.

Mimbres artists painted geometric lines and patterns on two-thirds of the bowls found and figures on about one-third.

Since first being unearthed in New Mexico in the late nineteenth century, the striking ceramic bowls made a millennium earlier by people living in the Mimbres River Valley of the American Southwest have inspired countless counterfeiters, a clay art festival, a burglary at the University of Minnesota’s anthropology department, and even a line of railroad dinnerware.

While their undecorated outsides appear unremarkable in technique and form, their insides are magic, a canvas for haunting depictions of tortoises, fish, jackrabbits, and sometimes humans, as well as intricate geometric designs.The large range of sizes suggests multiple functions, among them serving and eating.In fact, the people even buried their dead—under their living areas—with the bowls placed on skulls.The bowls apparently were not traded, as they rarely turn up outside Mimbres sites.Indications from use suggest that though thoughtfully created, the bowls were not the equivalent of heirloom fine china, carefully stashed away for a grand event.They smoothed the insides with stones, applying a fine white clay slip over brown clay, and then brushed on black paint made by mixing ground iron ore and a plant-derived binder, probably with yucca brushes.

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