"The jaguar is a very powerful animal, with a mystique," said John Polisar, a jaguar expert from the Wildlife Conservation Society, in a recent talk on science and art at the Carlos Museum. Although revered by ancient cultures in the Americas, the jaguar today is highly vulnerable to humans, and its habitat has contracted by 50 percent.
"Jaguars were an intermediary between humans and nature," said Rebecca Stone, curator of art of the ancient Americas at the Carlos. She showed ancient pottery that portrayed a shaman transforming into a jaguar, "to get the wisdom and power of the animal, to bring it back to heal people," she said.
For more on how science, nature, spiritualism and art blended in the ancient Americas, listen to this Carlos Museum podcast on shamanism.