- A.D. 1–1000
- Colombia, Caribbean Lowlands
- H. 3/4 × W. 4 3/16 in. (1.8 × 10.6 cm)
- Credit Line:
- The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
- Accession Number:
This nose ornament is made of cast metal consisting of gold or a gold-copper alloy. The object was fabricated by lost-wax casting by Zenú metalworkers in the Caribbean Lowlands of present-day Colombia. (For more information on lost-wax casting, please see Metropolitan Museum of Art 2008.569.13a, b). All of the details of the ornament were designed originally in wax. While some Zenú nose ornaments are relatively flat in their extensions (e.g., Metropolitan Museum of Art 1977.187.13), the extensions of the present example have dimensionality, created by shaping the wax model around a ceramic core that was removed after the metal was cast. The core was located in the two cavities seen on the reverse of the ornament. The open back of the ornament would have facilitated the removal of this material. Some ceramic figurines from the Caribbean Lowlands show a person wearing a similar nose ornament with the loop threaded through the nose’s septum but whether this could have been accomplished with a metal ornament like the present example is uncertain.
The artists likely made several pieces of the wax model separately but cast them together as one. After creating the basic form of the extensions, rounded on the obverse and relatively flat on the reverse, they formed wax into a semicircular rod and attached it to the extensions, on either side of the central opening. The artists then wrapped six thin threads of wax around each end of the extensions facing the central opening. On close inspection, it is possible to see that they shaped these groups of threads around the feature that is now the central loop. Thus, the loop was attached first.
Separately, the artists created the symmetrical design seen at the other ends of the extensions. The design has the appearance of filigree, but it was not made with wire. It was actually cast, beginning with forming the design in wax. Either end shows a loop formed by two wax threads; the loop is circular with two points diametrically opposed to each other slightly pinched. The loop extends into two spirals, each made by tightly coiling a long wax thread. The artists may have created a narrow slot in the ends of the extensions in order to fit the loop-spiral elements onto each end. The spirals are nested slightly into the extensions rather than sitting proud of them. In recent centuries, people in Mompox, in the Zenú region, have been practicing filigree, using wire rather than casting metal. Today, they work typically in silver, and people’s memories point to early Zenú and Spanish Colonial-period metalworking traditions as origins of their practice (Lobo 2014).
The present ornament is polished and the smooth surface visible over most of the object contrasts with the rough surface visible inside the cavities, where the core would have been located. There is a fracture on the proper left loop that is part of the loop-spiral design at one end. This fracture could have arisen during or after casting, as the thin areas of this design are delicate.
The ornament belongs to the group defined by Ana María Falchetti (1995, 72, 79, fig. 26b) as “nose ornaments with horizontal extensions” (“narigueras con prolongaciones horizontales”) and specifically to Type 3b, where the extensions are hollow, and there are double spirals at the ends and threads around the internal ends. These ornaments range from 16 to 20 cm in width, which is notably larger than the width of the present example. Falchetti (1995, table 3a) identifies three of these Type 3b nose ornaments, one of which is from San Pedro de Urabá, and the other two of which lack archaeological provenance. This nose ornament is similar to one in the Museo del Oro (Bogotá) O7808 (seen in Falchetti 1976, fig. 11.1) but the latter does not include the loop-spiral designs at the outer ends. The present example is suggestive of Early Zenú metalwork, which Falchetti (2000, 136) associates with a period of A.D. 1 to 1000.
The Zenú region shows some of the earliest evidence of human occupation in Colombia. The archaeological site San Jacinto 1, in the Serranía de San Jacinto, was occupied as early as ca. 4000 B.C., with evidence of people making pottery and harvesting wild grasses to obtain seeds (Oyuela-Cacedo 1996). Communities have also been documented in the lower San Jorge River Basin as early as the 9th century B.C. (Plazas et al. 1993, 10; Plazas et al. 1996, 64). Around the 8th century B.C., at the onset of a period of drought, people began constructing a canal system considering that this area was prone to flooding. The canals were separated by artificial earthen platforms on which people lived. The system allowed for better drainage of the land that flooded during rainy periods and also helped to channel water throughout the area (Berrío et al., 2001; Falchetti 1995, 18; Plazas and Falchetti 1981, 19). Settlements in these areas proliferated during the more humid years between 150 B.C. and A.D. 500 (Plazas et al. 1996, 76). At its greatest breadth, the hydraulic system covered 500,000 hectares in the Momposina Basin, where the Cauca, Magdalena, and San Jorge Rivers meet, and 150,000 hectares around the lower Sinú River (Falchetti 1996, 10).
In the San Jorge River Basin, people created pottery known as Modelled and Painted, featuring cream colored vessels with modeled and appliquéd designs and red-painted geometric motifs (Falchetti 2000, 135; Plazas et al. 1993, 202). The River Basin provided fertile soil for cultivation of maize, manioc, chili peppers, and squash, and people supplemented their diets with aquatic fauna, including turtles and fish (Berrío et al. 2001, 163). There were also plentiful riverine sources of gold, especially around the Cauca and Nechí Rivers, supporting distinctive goldworking traditions (Falchetti 1995, 18-19). Typically working in gold and gold-copper alloys, Zenú metalworkers fabricated a range of forms primarily by casting metal or hammering metal sheet. Occupations in the Momposina Depression were concentrated between A.D. 500 and A.D. 1000, but some of the earliest Zenú metalwork appears to have been created in the first centuries A.D. (Falchetti 2000, 136).
After the 10th century A.D., the scope of settlements in the Momposina Depression appears to have dramatically reduced (Plazas et al. 1996, 76). At this time, there likely was interaction between Zenú and Malibú peoples, the latter of whom lived around the Magdalena River and moved into the San Jorge River region (Falchetti 2000, 147–48). These interactions may have produced a tradition of metalworking related to earlier Zenú practices, but concentrated in the Serranía de San Jacinto: in this tradition, people worked mainly with copper and gold-copper alloys with lower gold content than seen in other Zenú metalwork (Falchetti 1995, 32; Falchetti 2000, 145–47). This tradition shows a relation to the Betancí Complex, in which people produced a corpus of ceramics that included pedestal vessels, distinctive but also related to the Modelled and Painted tradition (Falchetti 1996, 15, 30). Just before Spanish colonization, the population density of the Lower Magdalena River, part of the Zenú region, was likely between 17 and 34 people for each square kilometer (Langebaek 2010, Table 2).
 For example, a ceramic figurine (Museo del Oro [Bogotá] CS4198 in Falchetti 1976, fig. 74.3) from El Japón in the Sucre department of Colombia appears to show a person wearing a similar nose ornament in this way.
Related objects: 1979.206.541, 1979.206.545, 1979.206.1085
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