Seated, life-size baby figures are among the most intriguing ceramic works from Precolumbian Mexico. Although their human features and postures are not symbolically complex and are easily understood, the significance of these figures in Precolumbian times is far from clear. They may have been early forms of Mexican deities or emblems of royal descent, or both. Made by an intellectually and artistically gifted people now called Olmec, the baby figures are white-surfaced-if not entirely made of white clay-and hollow. Some portray well-fed children making infantile gestures. Holding a chubby finger to its mouth, this figure is a fine example. An elaborate helmet (or perhaps a special hair arrangement) is colored red-pink with powdered cinnabar that was probably used for symbolic purposes.
Most intact Olmec ceramics have been found in burials in the central Mexican highlands. Preservation conditions in the wet climate of the Gulf Coast, where the Olmecs built their main centers, are so poor that the acid soils erode even well-fired ceramic objects. This figure is said to come from the highland site of Las Bocas in Puebla.