Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Bell Pendant

Date:
A.D. 900–1520
Geography:
Panama, Veraguas
Culture:
Greater Chiriquí
Medium:
Gold
Dimensions:
H. 1 7/16 in., Wt. 0.539 oz. (3.7 cm, 15.27 g)
Classification:
Metal-Ornaments
Credit Line:
Gift and Bequest of Alice K. Bache, 1974, 1977
Accession Number:
1974.271.2
Not on view
This bell is made of cast metal and consists of a hemispherical resonator with an ornate finial. Metalworkers designed the entire object first in wax, and then melted out the wax to replace it with molten metal, which solidified into the form that is preserved today. The finial depicts a bird looking upward, in a crouched position, as if resting before or after flight. The bird is 1.8 cm high. Each eye is formed of a small circular loop of metal and a hemisphere that sits in the middle of the loop. The mouth or beak is curved, with the top part projecting slightly beyond the lower part. The wings are curved and point to the back of the bird. They are formed by two curved extensions of metal that create somewhat of a heart shape and cross over each other near the back. These elements were formed by joining two threads of wax when the object’s model was fabricated. The bird’s tail is shown projecting at the back and has two incisions, likely added by to suggest the texture of the feathers.

The designer showed the bird with its legs curved and bent, and its feet sticking up, angled perpendicularly to the base of the finial. The feet extend onto the base and project over the edge of the finial. The designer indicated the toes of the bird with two slight incisions in each foot. The body of the bird rests on the suspension loop, which could have been used to attach the bell to an article of clothing or another medium. The loop is 1.6 mm thick. There is a rim around the base of the finial with a braided design.

A feature that is uncommon in bells from this region, a short cylindrical form connects the finial and the resonator. The top of the resonator is relatively rectilinear, but it extends downward into a more rounded form. The two edges of the resonator’s opening point inward; their orientation was designed in the wax model, rather than by hammering after casting. Near the edges of the resonator’s walls, their thickness is approximately 1 mm. A feature not common among other bells from this region is the irregularity of the edges of the resonator’s opening. Each edge shows a slight semicircular void that appears to have been designed in the wax model rather than a feature that emerged as the result of use or weathering. There is a spherical clapper freely moving within the resonator that appears to be made of metal. This clapper likely would have been cast in the same stage as the bell was and became mobile once the metalworker removed the casting core from the interior of the resonator. An alternative is that the resonator was hammered open after casting to insert the clapper—perhaps using the semicircular void areas of the edges; however, there does not appear to be deformation from hammering in these areas. Striking the resonator’s walls, the clapper produces a clear, medium-pitched sound when the bell moves, potentially adding to the sound of the bell hitting other ornaments or clothing that a person may have been wearing. The irregular edges of the resonator opening also affect the timbre of the sound.

The fabrication of the bell by lost-wax casting is confirmed by the dendritic appearance of the base of the finial, an area that does not appear to have been polished. These dendrites are actually metal grains and their presence, as opposed to much finer grains, suggests that the ceramic casting mold was pre-heated, creating a less dramatic temperature gradient where the solid ceramic came into contact with the liquid metal, encouraging growth of metal grains and a slow cooling process. Conversely, much of the bell’s surface, particularly the resonator, appears to have been polished after the metal was cast. The resonator shows scratches from the polishing procedure as well as pitting related to the corrosion of the metal.

The type of bird depicted in the finial is an open question; the intent of the metalworkers may not have been to portray one particular species. Many of the metal objects that show birds, including bells (e.g., Metropolitan Museum of Art 1979.206.491) and pendants (e.g., Metropolitan Museum of Art 1979.206.826, 1991.419.8), from Veraguas (see below) have been interpreted as representing “eagles,” an assignment that comes from Spanish colonial sources and has had hegemony in the anthropological-archaeological literature (Fernández 2013, fig. 92; Helms 1995, 41; Ibarra 2003, 389; Lothrop 1950, 55). Other interpretations should be considered, including, for example, hummingbirds (Cooke 1984, 246-248). The pronounced curved beak and the wings drawn close to the body are features to note on the bell discussed here, the latter of which makes it different from a range of other Veraguas metal objects that depict birds, where the wings are spread. Lothrop (1950, 73) identifies three types of Veraguas bells, of which this object is a member of the second: bells in the form of a bird or turtle, bells with a finial that depicts an animal, and especially small bells with a suspension loop on top of the resonator.

The Museum records related to this bell state that it was acquired in Veraguas, a contemporary province of Panama that is also the name of an archaeological region that more or less encompasses the province (Lothrop 1950). The archaeological region of Veraguas extends from the west at the Tabasará River to the east, with the border of the Coclé archaeological region. The concentration of the Veraguas region is mainly in the western Azuero Peninsula. To some archaeologists, Veraguas is actually part of the Greater Chiriquí region which extends west into Costa Rica. The chronology associated with this bell relates to the Veraguas-Chiriquí metalwork group (Bray 1992, Table 3.2). Burials in the region apparently came to be known to archaeologists only with the construction of the Pan-American Highway in the mid-1930s (Lothrop 1950, 16).

While Veraguas is not necessarily the area where this bell was excavated or fabricated, the region was an area of metallurgical production in the past, and still is today. There is a range of alluvial (that is, related to deposits left by bodies of water) gold sources in Veraguas (see Cooke et al. 2003), sparking the interest of foreign mining companies in recent years. Native communities in Veraguas have defended their land against colonists since European incursions in the early 16th century (Molina 2008). Some 75 years after the construction of the Pan-American Highway in this region, which literally paved the way for archaeologists to enter the area, indigenous and campesino communities from the Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca have undertaken blockades of the Highway in the Veraguas and Chiriquí provinces in protest of the opening of their lands to further forms of extraction, including mining and hydroelectric projects. One outcome, in 2012, was the passage of a national law that prohibits mining in the Comarca (Velásquez 2012, 28-30).

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

References

Bray, Warwick. “Sitio Conte Metalwork in Its Pan-American Context.” In River of Gold: Precolumbian Treasures from the Sitio Conte, edited by Pamela Hearne and Robert J. Sharer, 32-46. Philadelphia: University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1992.

Cooke, Richard C. “Birds and Men in Prehistoric Central Panama.” In Recent Developments in Isthmian Archaeology, edited by Frederick W. Lange, 243-281. Oxford: BAR, 1984.

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. “Between Beliefs and Rituals: Material Cultures of Ancestral Costa Rica.” In Revealing Ancestral Central America, edited by Rosemary A. Joyce, 58-67. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 2013.

Helms, Mary W. Creations of the Rainbow Serpent: Polychrome Ceramic Designs from Ancient Panama. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995.

Ibarra, Eugenia. “Gold in the Everyday Lives of Indigenous Peoples of Sixteenth-Century Southern Central America.” In Gold and Power in Ancient Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia, edited by Jeffrey Quilter and John W. Hoopes, 383-419. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2003.

Lothrop, Samuel K. Archaeology of Southern Veraguas, Panama. Memoirs of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University. Cambridge: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, 1950.

Molina Castillo, José Mario. Veragua, la tierra de Colón y Urracá: Estudio geo-histórico, urbanístico, económico, social, político y cultural de Veraguas, Chiriquí y Bocas del Toro, 1502-1821. Panama City: Arte Gráfico Impresores, 2008.

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.
[John J. Klejman, New York, until 1962]; Alice K. Bache, New York, 1962–1977(partial gift from 1974)

Lothrop, Samuel K. "Archaeology of Southern Veraguas, Panama." Memoirs of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University (1950).

Cooke Richard. "Bird and Men in Prehistoric Central Panama." In Recent Developments in Isthmian Archaeology: Advances in the Prehistory of Lower Central America, edited by Frederick W. Lange. 44th International Congress of Americanists. Oxford: B.A.R., 1984, pp. 243–81.

Bray, Warwick M. "Sitio Conte Metalwork in Its Pan-American Context." In River of Gold: Precolumbian treasures from Sitio Conte, edited by Pamela Hearne, and Robert J. Sharer. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 1992, pp. 32–46.

Helms, Mary W. Creations of the rainbow serpent: Polychrome ceramic designs from ancient Panama. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995.

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.

Ibarra, Eugenia. "Gold in the Everyday Lives of Indigenous Peoples of Sixteenth-Century Southern Central America." 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. 383–419.

Molina Castillo, José Mario. Veragua, la tierra de Colón y Urracá: Estudio geo-histórico, urbanístico, económico, social, político y cultural de Veraguas, Chiriquí y Bocas del Toro, 1502-1821. Panama City: Arte Gráfico Impresores, 2008.

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.

Fernández, Patricia. "Between Beliefs and Rituals: Material Cultures of Ancestral Costa Rica." In Revealing Ancestral Central America, edited by Rosemary A. Joyce. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2013, pp. 58–67.



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