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The Mississippian culture seems to have been progressing towards its use, with small stone figures, when it collapsed.Other cultures, such as ancient Egypt and the Easter Island culture, seem to have devoted enormous resources to very large-scale monumental sculpture from a very early stage.Sculpture has been central in religious devotion in many cultures, and until recent centuries large sculptures, too expensive for private individuals to create, were usually an expression of religion or politics.Those cultures whose sculptures have survived in quantities include the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean, India and China, as well as many in South America and Africa.Sunk-relief is a technique restricted to ancient Egypt.
Another basic distinction is between subtractive carving techniques, which remove material from an existing block or lump, for example of stone or wood, and modelling techniques which shape or build up the work from the material.
Another grand form of portrait sculpture is the equestrian statue of a rider on horse, which has become rare in recent decades.
The smallest forms of life-size portrait sculpture are the "head", showing just that, or the bust, a representation of a person from the chest up.
Sculpture in stone survives far better than works of art in perishable materials, and often represents the majority of the surviving works (other than pottery) from ancient cultures, though conversely traditions of sculpture in wood may have vanished almost entirely.
However, most ancient sculpture was brightly painted, and this has been lost.A basic distinction is between sculpture in the round, free-standing sculpture, such as statues, not attached (except possibly at the base) to any other surface, and the various types of relief, which are at least partly attached to a background surface.