Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Nose Ornament

Date:
A.D. 1–1000
Geography:
Colombia, Caribbean Lowlands
Culture:
Zenú
Medium:
Gold
Dimensions:
H. 3/4 × W. 4 3/16 in. (1.8 × 10.6 cm)
Classification:
Metal-Ornaments
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
1979.206.542
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 357
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.[1]

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).

[1] 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

Exhibition History

New York, Museum of Primitive Art, “Precolumbian Gold Sculpture,” Oct. 29, 1958 - Feb. 8, 1959, cat. no. 37, checklist no. 51, ill.; New York, Museum of Primitive Art, “Masterpieces from the Americas,” May 20–Nov. 11, 1964; New York, Museum of Primitive Art, “The World of Primitive Art,” July 12 - Sept. 11, 1966; New Orleans, Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, “Art in Ancient and Modern Latin America,” May 10 – June 16, 1968, cat. no. 195; New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art,” May 10 - Aug. 17, 1969, extended to Sept. 1; Leningrad, Hermitage Museum, “Gold of Precolumbian America,” Aug. 4 - Oct. 1, 1976; Moscow, The State Museum of Representational Arts, Oct. 15 - Dec. 15, 1976; The Kiev State Historical Museum, Jan. 5 - Mar. 1, 1977, cat. no. 98, ill.

References

Falchetti, Ana María. The Goldwork of the Sinu Region, Northern Colombia. MPhil diss., University of London, 1976, fig. 11.2.

Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 247, ill.

Further reading

Berrío, Juan Carlos, Arnoud Boom, Pedro José Botero, Luisa Fernanda Herrera, Henry Hooghiemstra, Freddy Romero, and Gustavo Sarmiento. “Multi-disciplinary Evidence of the Holocene History of a Cultivated Floodplain Area in the Wetlands of Northern Colombia.” Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 10, no. 3 (2001): 161–74.

Cabildo Mayor Regional. Resolución N° 007. Córdoba — Sucre: Resguardo Indígena Zenú de San Andrés de Sotavento, 2010.

Chaves, Margarita and Marta Zambrano. “From Blanqueamiento to Reindigenización: Paradoxes of Mestizaje and Multiculturalism in Contemporary Colombia.” European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 80 (2006): 5-23.

Drexler, Josef. “¡En los montes, sí; aquí, no!”: Cosmología y medicina tradicional de los Zenúes (Costa caribe colombiana). Hombre y ambiente 69-70. Quito: Abya-Yala, 2002.

Falchetti, Ana María. The Goldwork of the Sinu Region, Northern Colombia. MPhil diss., University of London, 1976.

———. El oro del Gran Zenú. Bogotá: Banco de la República, 1995.

———. “El territorio Gran Zenú, en las llanuras del Caribe colombiano: Arqueología y etnohistoria.” Revista de Arqueología Americana 11 (1996): 7-41.

———. “The Gold of Greater Zenú: Prehispanic Metallurgy in the Caribbean Lowlands of Colombia.” In Precolumbian Gold: Technology, Style and Iconography, edited by Colin McEwan. London: British Museum Press, 2000.

Langebaek, Carl Henrik. “¿Cuántos eran? ¿Dónde estaban? ¿Qué les pasó? Poblamiento indígena en la Colombia prehispánica y su transformación después de la Conquista.” In Colombia: Preguntas y respuestas sobre su pasado y su presente, edited by Diana Bonnett Vélez, Michael LaRosa, and Mauricio Nieto, 27-52. Bogotá: Universidad de los Andes, 2010.

Lobo, Jimena. “Changing Perspectives: The Archives of Memory and Material Culture.” Archaeological Review from Cambridge 29, no. 2 (2014): 69-87.

Navarette P., María Cristina. San Basilio de Palenque: Memoria y tradición: Surgimiento y avatares de las gestas cimarronas en el Caribe colombiano. Cali: Universidad del Valle, 2008.

Oyuela-Cacedo, Augusto. “The Study of Collector Variability in the Transition to Sedentary Food Producers in Northern Colombia.” Journal of World Prehistory 10, no. 1 (1996): 49-93.

Plazas, Clemencia, and Ana María Falchetti de Sáenz. Asentamientos prehispánicos en el Bajo Río San Jorge. Bogotá: Fundaciones de Investigaciones Arqueológicas Nacionales, Banco de la República, 1981.

Plazas, Clemencia, Ana María Falchetti, Juanita Sáenz Samper, and Sonia Archila. La sociedad hidráulica Zenú: Estudio arqueológico de 2.000 años de historia en las llanuras del Caribe colombiano. Bogotá: Banco de la República, 1993.

Plazas, Clemencia, Ana María Falchetti, Thomas van der Hammen, Pedro Botero. “Cambios ambientales y desarrollo cultural en el Bajo Río San Jorge.” Boletín del Museo del Oro 20 (1996): 54-88.

Serpa Espinosa, Roger. Los Zenúes: Córdoba indígena actual: La persistencia de la herencia étnica y cultural indígena Zenú en el Departamento de Córdoba. Montería: Gobernación de Córdoba, Secretaría de Cultura, 2000.

Turbay, Sandra and Susana Jaramillo. “Los indígenas Zenúes.” In Geografía humana de Colombia: Región Andina Central IV, 3. Bogotá: Instituto Colombiano de Cultura Hispánica, 1998.
[John Wise Ltd., New York, until 1957]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1957, on loan to the Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1957–1978

Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 247.

Plazas, Clemencia, and Ana Maria Falchetti de Sáenz. Asentamientos prehispánicos en el Bajo Río San Jorge. Bogotá: Fundaciones de Investigaciones Arqueológicas Nacionales, Banco de la República, 1981.

Falchetti de Sáenz, Ana Maria. El oro del Gran Zenú: Metalurgia prehispánica en las llanuras del Caribe colombiano. Bogota: Museo del Oro, Banco de la República, 1995.

Falchetti de Sáenz, Ana Maria. "El territorio Gran Zenú, en las llanuras del Caribe colombiano: Arqueología y etnohistoria." Revista de Arqueología Americana vol. 11 (1996).

Oyuela-Cacedo, Augusto. "The Study of Collector Variability in the Transition to Sedentary Food Producers in Northern Colombia." Journal of World Prehistory vol. 10, no. 1 (1996), pp. 49–93.

Plazas, Clemencia, Ana Maria Falchetti de Sáenz, Thomas van der Hammen, and Pedro José Botero. "Cambios ambientales y desarrollo cultural en el Bajo Río San Jorge." Boletín del Museo del Oro vol. 20 (1996), pp. 54–88.

Turbay, Sandra, and Susana Jaramillo. "Los indígenas Zenúes." Geografía humana de Colombia: Región Andina Central (1998).

Falchetti, Ana Maria. "The Gold of Greater Zenú: Prehispanic Metallurgy in the Caribbean Lowlands of Colombia." In Precolumbian Gold: Technology, Style and Iconography. London: British Museum Press, 2000.

Quijano, Anibal. "Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America." Nepantla: Views from the South vol. 1, no. 3 (2000), pp. 533–80.

Serpa Espinosa, Roger. Córdoba indígena actual: La persistencia de la herencia étnica y cultural indígena Zenú en el Departamento de Córdoba. Montería: Gobernación de Córdoba, Secretaría de Cultura, 2000.

Berrío, Juan Carlos, Arnoud Boom, Pedro José Botero, Luisa Fernanda Herrera, Henry Hooghiemstra, Freddy Romero, and Gustavo Sarmiento. "Multi-disciplinary Evidence of the Holocene History of a Cultivated Floodplain Area in the Wetlands of Northern Colombia." Vegetation History and Archaeobotany vol. 10, no. 3 (2001), pp. 161–74.

Drexler, Josef. "‘¡En los montes, sí; aquí, no!’: Cosmología y medicina tradicional de los Zenúes (Costa caribe colombiana)." In Hombre y ambiente. Quito: Abya-Yala, 2002, pp. 69–70.

Wolfe, Patrick. "Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native." Journal of Genocide Research vol. 8, no. 4 (2006), pp. 387–409.

Plazas, Clemencia, Ana Maria Falchetti de Sáenz, and Sonia Archila. La sociedad hidráulica Zenú: Estudio arqueológico de 2.000 años de historia en las llanuras del Caribe colombiano. Bogotá: Banco de la República, 2007.

Navarette P., María Cristina. San Basilio de Palenque: Memoria y tradición: Surgimiento y avatares de las gestas cimarronas en el Caribe colombiano. Cali: Universidad del Valle, 2008.

Cabildo Mayor Regional. "Córdoba–Sucre: Resguardo Indígena Zenú de San Andrés de Sotavento." Resolución N° 007 (2010).

Chaves, Margarita, and Marta Zambrano. "From Blanqueamiento to Reindigenización: Paradoxes of Mestizaje and Multiculturalism in Contemporary Colombia." European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies vol. 80 (2010), pp. 5–23.

Langebaek, Carl Henrik. "¿Cuántos eran? ¿Dónde estaban? ¿Qué les pasó? Poblamiento indígena en la Colombia prehispánica y su transformación después de la Conquista." In Colombia: Preguntas y Respuestas sobre su Pasado y su Presente, edited by Diana Bonnett Vélez, Michael LaRosa, and Mauricio Nieto. Bogotá, 2010, pp. 27–52.

Jimena Lobo. "Changing Perspectives: The Archives of Memory and Material Culture." In Archaeological Review from Cambridge. Vol. vol. 29, no. 2. 2014, pp. 69–87.

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