Happy Easter to all! Since this is probably (and hopefully) the weirdest Easter of our lifetime, Ancient Dan has decided to embrace it and present this unusual archaeological artifact to readers for review. While the object is clearly somehow related to Easter celebrations, I am aware of no exact parallel. Therefore, I will refer to it as an “Easter Ritual Figurine of Unknown Function” (ERFoUF).
Size and Materials: ERFoUF stands 8.5 cm high and appears to be made of plastic resin, but no scientific tests have been conducted. Realistic details were added by the artist in some kind of paint.
Provenance: I have no recollection of how I came to be in possession of this thing. Since the figurine’s provenance is unknown, it cannot be published in reputable academic journals. Nevertheless, I judge that its unusual combination of motifs merits bringing it to the general public’s attention. While this ERFoUF’s original find spot is unknown and thus its role in cult practices a mystery, the figurine’s point of manufacture is indicated by an inscription under the base.
Partly occluded by an added plaque indicating the object’s great worth, the inscription reads: “MADE [ˡ Ր]HINA” and can be reconstructed as either “MADE BY GHINA” or “MADE IN CHINA.” A second inscribed text on the rear of the base reads: “© ALI.”
Description: The figurine depicts an apparently human infant, clad in the skin of a yellow chick, reclining on its right side on a bed of green foliage, and clutching an egg in its left hand. The foliage, in places clearly ivy-like, elsewhere an amorphous mass of strands like plastic grass, is within some kind of scallop-edged container. This is perhaps a basket, but the artist did not paint any clues as to its material. Whether basket or stone (a birdbath?), this ovoid container sits atop a pedestal seemingly of carved stone or concrete.
The infant has piercing blue eyes, rosy cheeks, and creepy red lips, all skillfully executed to present an air of mystery. The eyebrows are raised as if questioning the viewer; balanced by the egg, clutched but resting on the infant’s stomach. This juxtaposition is mildly disturbing, as it is unclear if the infant has received the egg as a gift or is presenting it to the viewer.
The disquieting effect is heightened by the infant’s garb; a full suit chick costume with realistic yellow feather fuzz—or is the viewer to imagine this as an actual chick’s skin? The notion of a costume is somewhat belied by the complete beak and eyes above the infant’s face. In profile, the infant’s upturned nose seems to mock the fowl’s aquiline nib in a grotesque usurpation of the pecking order.
The pedestal features a base that is really a capital (normally expected at the top of a supportive column) of a pseudo-Ionic type. Above this base is the familiar, but often overlooked “egg and dart” motif, but here rendered with much larger than normal eggs.
Proposed Interpretation: The baby chick and the egg have undeniable Easter associations, but positioning of the elements in this bizarre composition renders traditional symbolism obsolete. ERFoUF changes the eternal question “which came first; the chicken or the egg?” to “which is more important; the chick or the egg?” The egg is small, too small to have produced a chick the size of that which now clothes the infant. But the infant’s presentation of the egg from within the eviscerated chick is perhaps a macabre symbolization of the Easter theme of rebirth—with overtones of reversal of fortune.
The unusual arrangement of the pedestal on which the strange scene is placed can thus be interpreted within the “reversal” theme posited above. It is tempting to see details as a graphic hint to the rise and expanded prominence of the egg above its traditional transient status. The egg thus transcends the chick as a symbol of new life; for with the chick life has come and death is next; while the egg eternally holds the promise of new life. Extending into speculation, it is possible this belief was precipitated by consistent results in real life. Studies have consistently shown that following Easter, baby chicks presented to children in a basket have a dismal survival rate. On the other hand, plastic eggs seem to last forever.
Finally, we consider the geographical context of this new belief by turning to the inscriptional evidence. Since inscribed manufacture and copyright attributions on ERFoUF differ we are left with twin mysteries. Who is the “ALI” that copyrighted this cult statuette? If an individual, ALI suggests a middle eastern or southwest Asian origin. A completely different context is suggested if ALI is seen as an acronym; as, perhaps, for “Aig Lovers International.” In this case, the colloquial pronunciation and spelling of “egg” suggest a southwestern or southern United States origin. Secondly, what was the relationship of the maker (the individual Ghina or the region China) to ALI, who presumably commissioned the work? More interestingly, what did the maker think when creating ERFoUF? Were they moved by its complex and disturbing imagery to reassess their own beliefs? I rather think they were filled with questions about motivations and function such as those expressed here.
These speculations are offered in openness to other ideas and it is hoped that presenting ERFoUF to a wider audience will precipitate reactions and further study.
May your Easter be happy and your faith not be disturbed by figurines nor circumstances seemingly from a bad dream.
 According to Tıröd Ğnihcnüh (private communication), excavation of southern and southwestern US homes typically reveals a dearth of chick bones, but an average of 3,426 plastic egg halves; this data would seem to corroborate the meaning and origin theories posited above.
Thanks for looking!