Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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Bell

Date:
A.D. 900–1520
Geography:
Costa Rica or Panama
Culture:
Greater Chiriquí
Medium:
Gold
Dimensions:
H. 1 1/16 in., Wt. 0.274oz. (2.7 cm, 7.78 g)
Classification:
Metal-Ornaments
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. Nathaniel Spear, Jr., 1978
Accession Number:
1978.514.42
Not on view
This bell, in the form of a mammal’s head, possibly a deer or canine, is made of gold or likely a gold alloy with some copper. The resonator, which is 2 cm high, comprises the head of the animal, and its mouth is indicated by the resonator’s opening. The suspension loop, which is 1.1 mm thick at its highest point and which extends from the sides of the head and projects well above it, is suggestive of the ears of the animal. Cast through the lost wax method, all of the surface details were first created in wax and then attached to the wax model that formed the basic shape of the head. These added details include: the suspension loop, which appears to flow directly out of the head; the elliptical eyes, each with a horizontal slit at its center; a feature that suggests a nose, comprised of a strip that runs from the top of the head to the top edge of the resonator opening, incised and curling back at one end; and six short stubs that protrude from the mouth, some more well defined than others, that indicate teeth. Inside the resonator, there is a freely floating clapper, made of metal and with a dull surface. This clapper moves around the resonator producing a light sound with a certain degree of roughness, as the clapper scrapes around the relatively rough internal walls, which are approximately 1.5 mm thick, based on a measurement at their edge. The clapper was either cast with the rest of the bell or fabricated separately and then added by opening and then closing the mouth through hammering.

Given its form and design, the bell was likely produced between A.D. 900 and A.D. 1520 in the Greater Chiriquí archaeological region, an area that encompasses parts of eastern Costa Rica and western Panama (see Joyce 2013, fig. 1). Without archaeological provenience, it becomes more difficult to interpret how this bell was used. Given the presence of a loop, it is certainly possible that the object was attached to or suspended from material, such as clothing on a person’s body. There is also an absence of evidence related to metallurgical production in Greater Chiriquí, but it is clear that sources of gold and copper are available in the region, including alluvial gold deposits in the Osa Peninsula and chalcopyrite (a copper iron sulfide) in the Talamancan region (Cooke et al. 2003; Fernández and Segura 2004). Copper sources also are located in the territories of Ngäbe and Buglé peoples in western Panama. [1] In cases where bells have been recovered from known archaeological contexts, these objects are typically associated with burials. One hundred twenty-one metal bells are part of the Minor Keith collection from a Greater Chiriquí cemetery at Panteón de la Reina, located in the valley of the Chirripó del Pacífico River, which was in use likely around the time of occupation of the nearby Rivas site, from A.D. 1000 to A.D. 1300 (Quilter 2000). Today the collection is housed in the American Museum of Natural History and in the Brooklyn Museum. Keith collected artifacts while laying the groundwork for the establishment of the United Fruit Company, a multinational corporation that came to colonize parts of the Central American Isthmus, including lands occupied by native peoples, for the cultivation of bananas (Viales 2001). Two turtle-shaped bells were found along with 86 other metal objects from a burial east of Mound F at Farm 4 in the Diquís Delta, a site on Boruca land, excavated when the territory was invaded by the United Fruit Company. Architectural features at the site mainly date to the Palmar Phase (A.D. 1000-1500) (Badilla et al. 1997).

A metal pendant (Museos del Banco Central de Costa Rica 297) from the Southern Pacific region of Costa Rica shows the entire body of a deer with a maize cob in its mouth and another wrapped by its curled tail, suggestive of the fact that deer are known to prey on maize fields (Aguilar 1996, 84). There is a range of metal bells, many of which were likely produced in the Greater Chiriquí region, that are in the form of mammalian heads and were deposited in the Sacred Cenote at Chichén Itzá in the Yucatán Peninsula. Two (PMAE 10-73-20/C7736 and 10-71-20/C7666C) are very similar to the present example showing the animal with horizontally elliptical eyes, an open mouth (forming the opening of the bell’s resonator), and stubs of metal around the mouth that suggest teeth (see Pillsbury et al. 2017, cat. nos. 168.1, 168.2). These two, however, depict the head with distinct antlers; in the case of this bell, the antlers—if they are antlers—are more abstracted, forming a single loop that extends from the head. Two other Cenote bells (PMAE 07-7-20/C4840 and 10-70-20/C6025) in the form of mammal heads have compositions very different from those of the aforementioned bells, including 1978.514.42: they are primarily copper with minor concentrations of arsenic in one case and arsenic and lead in the other (Cockrell et al. 2014). They show a mammal, possibly a coati considering the pronounced snout that is depicted. Each features long pointed eyes that would have been formed by carving out these shapes in the wax model of the bell along with two protruding ears and a single suspension loop at the top of the head.

Outside of the Greater Chiriquí region, a gold deer pendant was reportedly recovered from Las Mercedes in the Central Caribbean of Costa Rica (Lothrop 1952, 103). Mammalian depictions extended across other media, too. Small slate and jade pendants with suspension holes that depict coati were found in funerary contexts at the site of Loma Corral 3 in the Culebra Bay in northwestern Costa Rica (Snarskis 2013, figs. 30, 32a). All of these specific finds and the mammalian features they display raise questions: what did these materials mean and do when people fabricated, used, and deposited them?

Two metal bells were recovered from La Fábrica, located in the Central Valley of Costa Rica and dated to ca. A.D. 600 to A.D. 800 given the predominance of late Curridabat ceramics (Snarksis 2003, 178). These bells are copper-based and, especially interesting in relation to the present example, were associated with deer antlers beside a paved ramp leading to a residential structure. Linares (1977, 63) notes for Greater Coclé ceramics, in particular, that artists tend to highlight certain diagnostic features of an animal, such as the antlers of a deer. However, it is important to consider not so much the representation of animals and other living beings in portable media, like metal, but the production of certain characteristics or ways of being through the fabrication and deposition of these media.

Thus, what affect, or emotional experience, does a bell in the form of a deer head, such as this one, produce? How is this effect different than that produced by an association of plain metal bells with deer antlers? This is a question that could be considered through greater dialogues with indigenous and descendant communities. Today, Bribri, Cabécar, Naso, Boruca, Ngäbe, Buglé, and African diasporic communities live in Greater Chiriquí. For Bribri people, musical instruments may incorporate parts of animals, such as this rattle (Metropolitan Museum of Art 89.4.677) does, and the sounds of animals are part of a larger sonic landscape that involves ritualized speech performances by humans (Cervantes 2003). There is an intimate relationship between humans and the materials that comprise these musical instruments. According to contemporary ethnographies, people in Bribri communities say that the seeds that fill rattles are also the seeds that give rise to people known as stsökölpa, or funerary singers (Cervantes 2003). This bell, then, capable of making sound and perhaps once in close association with the human body if it was worn, creates meaning not alone but as part of a social context. For the people who made and used it, the bell produces meanings and affects that extend beyond the material object.

These contexts raise the point that, rather than focusing on representation on and within individual archaeological objects or things, or making correlations between an object and a single animal, we can think more in terms of assemblages of people and materials that produce certain experiences. We can consider the body of one adult identified at the Greater Coclé site of Cerro Juan Díaz, where a cemetery was in use from A.D. 650 to A.D. 1350. This person was buried with a necklace of teeth from a variety of species, including nineteen teeth of domestic dog (Canis familaris), two teeth of bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), and one tooth of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginanus) (Cooke 2003, 278). These species were brought into a close visual relationship with a person, being worn in death—and not just the death of the person but of the other animals, too. Their association likely produced an intimate sonic relationship, too, as we imagine the teeth striking each other and producing sound while being perforated, strung, and assembled onto the body, connecting with it for a long time after the burial took place.

Bryan Cockrell, Curatorial Fellow, Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, 2017

[1] In 2012, after organizing against the proposals of mining companies that sought to exploit their lands’ resources, including a blockade of the Pan-American Highway, indigenous and campesino communities from the Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca reached an accord with former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli to prohibit mining in their territories (Velásquez 2012, 28-30).

Related objects: 89.4.677, 1978.514.43, 66.196.6, 1977.187.26

Publications: Spear, Jr., Nathaniel. A Treasury of Archaeological Bells. New York: Hastings House Publishers, 1978, 232, fig. 284.

Further reading:

Aguilar Piedra, Carlos H. Los usékares de oro. San José: Fundación Museos Banco Central, 1996.

Badilla, Adrián, Ifigenia Quintanilla, and Patricia Fernández. “Hacia la contextualización de la metalurgia en la subregión arqueológica Diquís: el caso del sitio Finca 4.” Boletín del Museo del Oro 42 (1997): 112-137.

Cervantes Gamboa, Laura. Sounds Like Music: Ritual Speech Events Among the Bribri Indians of Costa Rica. PhD thesis. Austin: University of Texas, 2003.

Cockrell, Bryan, José Luis Ruvalcaba Sil, and Edith Ortiz Díaz. 2015. “For Whom the Bells Fall: Metals from the Cenote Sagrado, Chichén Itza.” Archaeometry 57, no. 6 (2015): 977-995.

Cooke, Richard. “Rich, Poor, Shaman, Child: Animals, Rank, and Status in the ‘Gran Coclé’ Culture Area of Pre-Columbian Panama.” In Behaviour Behind Bones: The Zooarchaeology of Ritual, Religion, Status and Identity, edited by Sharyn Jones O’Day, Wim Van Neer, and Anton Ervynck, 271-284. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2003.

Cooke, Richard, Ilean Isaza, John Griggs, Benoit Desjardins, and Luís Alberto Sánchez. “Who Crafted, Exchanged, and Displayed Gold in Pre-Columbian Panama.” In Gold and Power in Ancient Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia, edited by Jeffrey Quilter and John W. Hoopes, 91-158. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2003.

Fernández, Patricia and José Segura Garita. “La metalurgia del Sureste de Costa Rica: Identificación de producciones locales basadas en evidencia tecnológica y estilística.” In Tecnología del oro antiguo: Europa y América, edited by Alicia Perea, Ignacio Montero, and Óscar García-Vuelta, 49-61. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 2004.

Joyce, Rosemary A., ed. Revealing Ancestral Central America. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 2013.

Linares, Olga F. Ecology and the Arts in Ancient Panama: On the Development of Social Rank and Symbolism in the Central Provinces. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1977.

Pillsbury, Joanne, Timothy Potts, and Kim N. Richter, eds. Golden Kingdoms: Luxury Arts in the Ancient Americas. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2017.

Quilter, Jeffrey. “The General and the Queen: Gold Objects from a Ceremonial and Mortuary Complex in Southern Costa Rica.” In Precolumbian Gold: Technology, Style and Iconography, edited by Colin McEwan, 177-195. London: The British Museum, 2000.

Snarskis, Michael J. “From Jade to Gold in Costa Rica: How, Why, and When.” In Gold and Power in Ancient Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia, edited by Jeffrey Quilter and John W. Hoopes, 159-204. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2003.

-----. “Loma Corral 3, Culebra Bay, Costa Rica: An Elite Burial Ground with Jade and Usulután Ceramic Offerings.” In Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology: Essays in Honor of Frederick R. Mayer, edited by Margaret Young-Sánchez, 47-82. Denver: Denver Art Museum, 2013.

Velásquez Runk, Julie. “Indigenous Land and Environmental Conflicts in Panama: Neoliberal Multiculturalism, Changing Legislation, and Human Rights.” Journal of Latin American Geography 11, no. 2 (2012): 21-47.

Viales Hurtado, Ronny. “La colonización agrícola de la región Atlántica (Caribe) Costarricense entre 1870 y 1930: El peso de la política agraria liberal y de las diversas formas de apropiación territorial.” Anuario de Estudios Centroamericanos 27, no. 2 (2001): 57-100.
Nathaniel Spear, Jr., New York, until 1978

Linares, Olga F. Ecology and the Arts in Ancient Panama: On the Development of Social Rank and Symbolism in the Central Provinces. Studies in pre-Columbian art and archaeology, Vol. no. 17. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1977.

Aguilar Piedra, Carlos H. Los usékares de oro. San José: Fundación Museos Banco Central de Costa Rica, 1996.

Badilla, Adrián, Ifigenia Quintanilla, and Patricia Fernández. "Hacia la contextualización de la metalurgia en la subregión arqueológica Diquís: El caso del sitio Finca 4." Boletín del Museo del Oro vol. 42 (1997), pp. 112–37.

Quilter, Jeffrey. "The General and the Queen: Gold Objects from a Ceremonial and Mortuary Complex in Southern Costa Rica." In Precolumbian Gold: Technology, Style and Iconography, edited by Colin McEwan. London: British Museum, 2000, pp. 177–95.

Viales Hurtado, Ronny. "“La colonización agrícola de la región Atlántica (Caribe) Costarricense entre 1870 y 1930: El peso de la política agraria liberal y de las diversas formas de apropiación territorial." Anuario de Estudios Centroamericanos vol. 27, no. 2 (2001), pp. 57–100.

Cooke Richard, Ilean Isaza, John Griggs, Benoit Desjardins, and Luís Alberto Sánchez Herrera. "Who Crafted, Exchanged, and Displayed Gold in Pre-Columbian Panama?." In Gold and Power in Ancient Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia, edited by Jeffrey Quilter, and John W. Hoopes. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2003, pp. 91–158.

Cooke Richard. "Rich, Poor, Shaman, Child: Animals, Rank, and Status in the ‘Gran Coclé’ Culture Area of Pre-Columbian Panama." In Behaviour Behind Bones: The Zooarchaeology of Ritual, Religion, Status and Identity, edited by Sharyn Jones O’Day, Wim Van Neer, and Anton Ervynck. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2003, pp. 271–84.

Snarskis, Michael J. "From Jade to Gold in Costa Rica: How, Why, and When." In Gold and Power in Ancient Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia, edited by Jeffrey Quilter, and John W. Hoopes. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2003, pp. 159–204.

Fernández, Patricia, and José Segura Garita. "La metalurgia del Sureste de Costa Rica: Identificación de producciones locales basadas en evidencia tecnológica y estilística." In Tecnología del oro antiguo: Europa y América, edited by Alicia Perea, Ignacio Montero, and Óscar García-Vuelta. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 2004, pp. 49–61.

Velásquez Runk, Julie. "Indigenous Land and Environmental Conflicts in Panama: Neoliberal Multiculturalism, Changing Legislation, and Human Rights." Journal of Latin American Geography vol. 11, no. 2 (2012), pp. 21–47.

Joyce, Rosemary A., ed. Revealing Ancestral Central America. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2013.

Snarskis, Michael J. "Loma Corral 3, Culebra Bay, Costa Rica: An Elite Burial Ground with Jade and Usulután Ceramic Offerings." In Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology: Essays in Honor of Frederick R. Mayer,, edited by Margaret Young-Sanchez. Denver: Denver Art Museum, 2013, pp.47–82.

Cockrell, Bryan, José Luís Ruvalcaba Sil, and Edith Ortiz Díaz. "For Whom the Bells Fall: Metals from the Cenote Sagrado, Chichén Itzá." Archaeometry vol. 57, no. 6 (2015), pp. 977–95.

Pillsbury, Joanne, Timothy Potts, and Kim N. Richter, eds. Golden Kingdoms: Luxury Arts in the Ancient Americas. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2017.



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