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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Pre-Columbian Masterpieces : Atlantic Watershed Jade Figure-Celt Pendant
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Atlantic Watershed Jade Figure-Celt Pendant - PF.3158
Origin: Eastern Costa Rica
Circa: 100 AD to 500 AD

Catalogue: V15
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Medium: Jade

Location: UAE
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In the context of Pre-Columbian art and archaeology, jade is a generic term that refers to any variety of hard, dense stones that were worked with great skill by native artists. Although jade is generally thought to be green, it can actually be a range of colors. Jade carving flourished in ancient Costa Rica for over a thousand years, roughly from 500 B.C. to 900 A.D., although the period of greatest artistic accomplishment lasted from 300 to 700 A.D. It is believed that jade working began during an extended period of agricultural abundance that allowed the ancient society to dedicate part of its energies toward the cultivation of artistic pursuits.

Jade was considered to be a sacred material by the ancient populations of Costa Rica, held in even higher esteem than gold. Generally, it was thought to symbolize that vital life force that sustains us all. The color green is naturally associated with verdant plant life. Specifically, jade was thought to symbolize the sprouting maize plant, that staple of the Pre-Columbian diet. It has also been suggested that jade represents water. Either way, we can be certain that jade represented the very essence of life itself.

To date, no native sources of jade have been discovered in Costa Rica, suggesting an extended trade network existed that imported this precious resource from Mesoamerica into Costa Rica where it was carved by local artists. Such trade also would have brought great wealth and likely reinforced the social stratification of the peoples. Jade may have served as a status marker to distinguish the elite from the masses and solidify their hold on power. We can picture an ancient ruler or shaman presiding over a sacred ceremonial adorned in brilliant green jade pendants and jewelry. The ancient Costa Ricans believe that the system of social hierarchy also extended into the afterlife. Therefore, jade objects were buried with the elite so that their power could be maintained throughout eternity.

Skillful carving and drilling techniques distinguish this lustrous jade pendant. It is an exceptional representation of an Axe-God pendant from Costa Rica. This unusually large pendant depicts a human figure portrayed as an Axe-God who is probably a shaman or chieftain - shaman with high political as well as religious status. This Celt like pendant symbolically represents a functional polished celt that was used as a forest-clearing tool, which is associated with agriculture. The relative degree of "humanness" or "birdness" is highly variable concerning the arms or "wings" of this pendant. The "wings" may represent the harpy eagle, which may have been chosen as a symbol of strength and nobility among birds. These birds are high-soaring species, and it is possible that they were viewed as emissaries, the all-seeing "eyes and ears" of the shaman-eagle. The legs are indicated by only triangular and rectangular incisions. The artist tackling the hard material by defining planes, cutting out and sawing grooves, created this remarkable work of art. A mask that is adorned with a cap incised with arrows covers the head. The bulbous cheeks and large triangular nose are fascinating features and remain an enigma. Turn the pendant to its back and we are faced with another enigma: an incised “X.” This must be an important symbol both politically and religiously. There are drilled holes for suspension. Although the precise meaning of this exceptional lapidary work of art is as yet unclear, the fine artistry of this pendant clearly represents a highly sophisticated and flourishing culture in Ancient Costa Rica. A culture whose art appeases our thirst for beauty and innovation and lingers in our minds with awe and wonder. - (PF.3158)


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