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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Archive : Tairona Gold Pendant
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Tairona Gold Pendant - AM.0450
Origin: Columbia
Circa: 900 AD to 1200 AD
Dimensions: 2.09" (5.3cm) high x 1.02" (2.6cm) wide
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Medium: Gold

Additional Information: SOLD

Location: Great Britain
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At the time of the Spanish Conquest of the Americas, in the Sierra Nevada mountain chain of northern Colombia, a lively metallurgical tradition among the Chibcha-speaking Tairona. The Tairona culture began their process of consolidation as a social and political entity in the first centuries after Christ, reaching their apex of development after 1000 A.D. when dense populations were grouped together in many urban centers. Today, over two hundred Tairona sites are known, ranging from the coastal lowlands to the heights of the mountains. Settlements of varying sizes reflect a hierarchical political order; several large centers controlled numerous smaller ones, through a chiefly and priestly elite. Tairona goldwork reveals a complex iconography often combining both animal and human features. The Kogi people of the Sierra Nevadas, modern descendents of the Tairona, do not value gold, or other metal and gems for that matter, as indicators of wealth and personal prestige. For them, gold is a symbol of potential fertility belonging to all members of their society. The sun, the penultimate procreating force, transmits its power to gold, presumably endowing the metal with its yellowish hue. We can presume that the Tairona originally viewed gold much the same way, as ornaments charged with potent symbolism relating to the continuation of life.

Might this stunning sculptural pendant represent an image of the dead? Unlike most Tairona figural work, which can be characterized by coffee-bean shaped eyes, wide grinning smiles, and bulbous noses, this figure’s face is only defined by two circular eyes and a open, toothy mouth, characteristic more befitting a skeleton than a human. Seated in a posture with his knees hugged into his chest, a pose known from burial remains and Andean mummies that have survived the ravages of decomposition. When seen from the reverse, the skeletal spine and ribcage are clearly delineated. However, this figure still bears attributes of humanity, including jewelry and sporadic tufts of hair atop his head. May this in fact be a depiction of a mummy uncovered long ago by the Tairona? Perhaps it represents a deity from the underworld? Maybe merely a malnourished ascetic? While we will never know the answer for sure, this marvelous figure give us a glimpse into the rites of death in the Pre-Columbian Andes. - (AM.0450)


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