Architectural Model with Serpents
circa 11th - 17th century
Mali: Inland Niger Delta Region
9 x 8 1/4 x 9 in (22.86 x 20.955 x 22.86 cm)
Museum purchase, Robert P. Gordy Fund
Most often, terra cotta sculptures from the Inland Niger Delta depict figurative or animal scenes, making this architecturally themed work exceptional.
A CT scan was conducted to reveal the inside of the structure. In it are seven headless female forms, some appearing to be pregnant, strewn across the floor. Human sacrifice to serpents may have been practiced in the region at the time this scultpure was created.
The Soninke Empire of Ghana is said to have fallen during the 11th century when the annual sacrifice of a female virgin to a serpent named Bida was not performed. This piece may be a depiction of a similar sacrfice.