Cats in the Collections

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

The collections staff at the Peabody keep telling me that I can’t have a cat. Which I guess was fair, until I found out that all this time they have been hiding a jaguar in our basement!


An adorable jaguar cub who would love to live at the Peabody and get belly scratches. Look at those mitts!!! By User:MatthiasKabel – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

A few weeks ago I was approached by Elizabeth Aureden, instructor in music, to design an interactive class for her Music 410 course, The Musical Brain. While looking through our collections for musical instruments, I learned from collections assistant Samantha Hixson that she had just found and catalogued some effigy rattles.

The objects were made of clay and painted a variety of colors, and some still rattled.

This new find seemed very promising and so I wanted to learn more about them. Research indicated that these objects were from the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica and most likely date from AD 1000 – 1350.

Map showing the Nicoya cultural region. By Rodtico21 (Own work)[CC BY-SA 3.0
The parts we have are clearly broken and part of a much larger artifact. These are the remnants of the tripod legs of a rattle effigy vessel. Each of the three legs would have contained three clay balls and had openings on the side for the sound. When shaken a rhythmic sound can be heard.

Image of a complete vessel. Notice the holes in the side of the legs.  By Daderot (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
That’s pretty neat! But the story became even cooler as I found more information about this style of pottery.

The bowls were used to add a percussive sound to a ceremony. And the sound it made was not an accidental rattling sound, but rather a deliberate and meaningful one. When the bowl is shaken or moved about, and the clay balls rattle together, they create a deep, rumble. This sound is mimicking the low growl of an actual jaguar!!!!! Researchers have even noted that when the bowl is tilted and moving forward – like a jaguar lunging at prey – the sound is more prominent.

If your interest is now piqued about other objects from the Nicoya Peninsula, check out Dr. Rebecca Stone’s book, The Jaguar Within.


So next time you are at the Peabody be on the lookout, because you never know what other predatory animals might be lurking!!!

Scary lion from the 1995 movie Jumanji.
Sometimes the Peabody seems like it’s playing its own version of the game Jumanji, with all the random artifacts that mysteriously present themselves to staff members.




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