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About Zuni Carvings


Zuni fetishes are small carvings made from various materials by the Zuni people. These carvings have traditionally served a ceremonial purpose for their creators and depict animals and icons integral to their culture. The earliest of these animal carvings, found in ancestral Puebloan sites, date back centuries.


Traditionally Zuni fetishes were carved from bone, antler, horn, shell and wood as well as stone. For today’s commercial trade, artists most frequently carve from stone, although antler, horn, shell and occasionally fossilized ivory are sometimes used.

In Zuni culture, six directions are recognized—the four cardinal directions as well as “upper” and “lower.” Each of these directions is represented by a sacred mountain, a color, and a particular animal.


North is the yellow mountain lion

West, the Black Bear (represented by the color blue)

South, the Red Badger

East, the White Wolf

The sky or “upper” is the multi-colored Eagle

The Underground or lower is the Black ole


In addition to these six animals, many other animal forms are carved, including amphibians, reptiles, and fish as well as birds and mammals. Add to this a Zuni repertoire of many stones of wide-ranging colors and it becomes easy to understand why collecting  Zuni fetishes is growing.

Traditionally, the materials used by carvers were often indigenous to the region or procured by trade. The most important of these materials was turquoise which the Zuni regard as the sacred stone. Jet, shell (primarily mother-of-pearl), and coral are also frequently used. These materials and their associated colors are principle in the Zuni Sunface, a cultural symbol which is present in Zuni jewelry and fetishes and represents their sun father.


Other materials used are travertine or "Zuni rock", fishrock, jasper, pipestone, marble, or organic items such as fossilized ivory, bone, and deer or elk antler. Even artificial substances such as slag glass are used. But historically the most-used stone has been serpentine, a local soft stone found abundantly in the Zuni Mountains and also in Arizona.

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