Date: 5th–10th century
Culture: Zenu or Sinu
Dimensions: H. 4 3/4 x W. 2 5/8 x D. 1 3/4 in. (12.1 x 6.7 x 4.5 cm)
Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number: 1979.206.920
Gold objects from Precolumbian America are homogeneous in form—most are wearable ornaments, such as headdresses, pectorals, necklaces, ear and nose ornaments—but very diverse in style and iconography. Among unusual forms are the staff heads or finials from the Caribbean lowlands in northwestern Colombia. Thought to fit onto staffs of rank or office, they have a thimble-shaped cap topped with three-dimensional figures of birds, locally known animals, and humans. The small sculptures are often ornate and detailed, as is this perky owl sitting at the edge of the cap. Its broad head, turned at a right angle to its body, has beady eyes and a strong beak; it is framed by a braided element and topped by a ridged crest. The bird's bulging chest is composed of false filigree openwork, creating a pleasing contrast to the solid, brilliantly polished wings. The heavy, somewhat rough cast lends the bird spontaneity, which is underlined by the obvious flaw on the owl's right cheek. No effort was made to remove the excess gold blob.