Double Bat-Head Figure Pendant

11th–16th century
Overall: 3 in. (7.62 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Meredith Howland, 1904
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 357
The twin figures on this gold pendant wear identical headdresses, loincloths, and wide collar necklaces. Each holds a spear thrower and a paddle-shaped club. They have coffee-bean eyes, wide-open mouths with sharp beastlike fangs, and noses that are upswept in a leaf shape similar to the noses of Central American bats. The nose leaf is a sensing device which locates the bat's prey by reflecting the sounds it emits. Ancient Americans must have revered bats for this seemingly supernatural ability to see in the dark.

In life and in death, gold adornment symbolized power and prestige in the tribal societies of Central America. Leaders wore cast or hammered gold images in the shape of naturalistic animals, composite beasts, and human-animal combinations. So important were these symbols of power and identity that leaders were buried surrounded by all their gold. Without written records, the meaning of these symbols cannot be precisely identified. Human/animal beings such as these twin figures could represent tribal culture heroes, mythical warriors, or markers of elite clan members.
D.M. Corwin, Panama, 1859; Meredith Howland, New York, 1904

Easby, Elizabeth Kennedy, and John F. Scott. Before Cortez: Sculpture in Middle America. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1970, no. 227.

Jones, Julie. The Art of Precolumbian Gold: The Jan Mitchell Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1985, p. 38, fig. 7.

Jones, Julie, and Heidi King. "Gold of the Americas." The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art vol. 59, no. 4 (Spring 2002), p. 50.