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Ritual Jar

A work made of blackened terracotta.

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  • A work made of blackened terracotta.


Early/mid–20th century


Inland Niger Delta region, Mali
Northern Africa and the Sahel

About this artwork

While the exact origins of this elaborate, lidded jar remain something of a mystery, its detailed embellishment, which is modeled in high relief, suggests that it was intended for ritual use. At center stage of the lid is a large, stately figure of a seated woman encircled by a snake; her hair is styled in a high crest flanked by shorter ones. On the jar’s body, spiraling snakes, each covered with small circles applied by a wooden stamp, are interspersed with female figures, which appear with arms raised and legs apart. The jar is believed to come from Mali’s Middle Niger region, where the pottery has a long history of stamped embellishment and snake imagery. Ancient terracotta containers and figures, dating largely to between the tenth and fourteenth centuries, are widespread in the region; they often feature circular stamps and modeled snakes, which are possibly associated with beliefs about ancestors or the founding of communities. The distinctive coiffures of the jar’s female figures may also offer a clue to its beginnings. They are suggestive of the high crests worn by Fula women, who are prominent, prolific potters throughout the Inland Niger Delta. The Fula were among the delta’s original inhabitants, and jewelry found at sites such as the ancient city of Jenne, where pottery was a major industry, bear a strong resemblance to modern Fula styles.


Currently Off View


Arts of Africa


Niger Delta


Ritual Jar


Mali (Object made in)


Made 1900–1950


Blackened terracotta


43.8 × 28.6 cm (17 1/4 × 11 1/4 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Keith Achepohl

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


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