Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Neck of Poporo (Lime Container)

300 B.C.–A.D. 700
Colombia, middle Cauca Valley and Central Cordillera
Early Quimbaya
Gold alloy
H. 5 3/8 x Diam. 2 5/8 in. (13.7 x 6.7 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
Not on view
This metal object is the neck (cuello in Spanish) of a larger container, a poporo (or juror in the Guajiro languge, Kuetand-tuky in Páez, and yoburo in Arhuaco).[1] For many centuries, people in the Andes have used poporos for holding lime powder, and this is an early example of one component of these objects. This neck likely would have been attached to poporo made of a gourd. To join the two parts, a person could have used pitch, a viscous and elastic substance that can be derived from different organic materials (Plazas 2016, 266). Other examples of necks may have been attached by threading cord through perforations in the metal and joining this cord to the poporo body in some way.

The neck consists of three registers and is symmetric on its vertical axis and partially symmetric on its horizontal. The bottom register, however, is taller and its greatest width is noticeably greater than that of the top register. In this first, top register, the neck is funnel-like, with a wider circumference at the very top that gradually narrows downward. The entire object is hollow, and the funnel is open at the bottom, so that it connects with the rest of the object’s interior. Second, there is a register with eight rounded shapes. The eight shapes are spaced evenly around the circumference: there are four centered on an upper row, and four centered on a lower row, with some overlap between the two rows. The shapes in the top row are larger and more rounded than those on the bottom row. Third, the bottom register gradually curves outward toward the base of the object. A wide band of low relief separates the middle and bottom registers; the object is wider above and below this band.

Metalworkers made this object through very precise lost-wax casting. (For more details on this process, please see Metropolitan Museum of Art 1974.271.48, a Quimbaya anthropomorphic bead.) The metal they cast for this object, which displays a golden and pink or red hue, appears to be an alloy of gold and copper. Silver also may be present, as an inherent component of the gold source, as noted in the analysis of other Quimbaya metal objects (see Uribe 2005, 83). These objects, including the present example, were produced in a region that includes parts of the Central Cordillera of Colombia and extends through much of the Cauca River Valley, from the department of Antioquia to the northern part of the Valle de Cauca department.[2] Its production is part of the Early Quimbaya tradition of metalworking, dating between approximately 300 B.C. and A.D. 700.

The metal of the top and bottom registers is especially thin. There is fine, localized porosity in different regions of the object, resulting from the trapping of gas molecules in the molten metal as it cooled. In these areas, the thin gold surface, likely produced through enrichment, has worn away to reveal corroded metal underneath. Overall, and especially outside of these recesses, the metal is highly polished.

The hollowness of the present object is vital to its association with the body of the poporo. A person would insert a palillo, or lime dipper, into the top of this neck, where there is a narrow perforation leading into the main part of the neck. The palillo would need to extend the entire length of the neck and then into the attached poporo in order to scoop up the lime. People use this lime in the consumption of coca (Erythroxylum novogranatense). Mixing the lime with the coca leaves that people chew helps to activate some of the beneficial properties of the coca plant, which can serve as a stimulant and help reduce fatigue or hunger. Today, wooden stoppers may be inserted into the top of the poporo. Among Native communities in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, in northern Colombia, men receive poporos when they reach adulthood, but in other parts of the Andes, women also use poporos. (For more information on the use of poporos, please see 1979.206.776.)

Each of the eight shapes in the object’s middle register may actually be a manifestation of a gourd, a major component of Quimbaya iconography. These gourds tend to be in the form of calabazos (Lagenaria siceraria), calabazas (Cucurbita pepo among other species), and totumas (Crescentia cujete). Poporos made of gourds are used by people today and may have been common in the past, but conditions of preservation have favored the metal poporos. People use much larger gourds as storage containers for food or water. Uribe (2005, 76) proposes that metalworkers may have taken some of these gourd poporos or the gourds themselves as inspiration for the metal versions. Several examples of poporo necks were part of an assemblage of 16 objects found in 1987 at the site of Puerto Nare in the middle Magdalena River Valley in Antioquia. One of these necks features rounded shapes similar to those on the top row of shapes on the present example, but they appear at the top rather than the middle of the neck (see Museo del Oro 2008, 94). Another example similar to the one from Puerto Nare was found at Pajarito in Antioquia (Pérez de Barradas 1965, pl. 1). In this case, however, the body of the poporo is metal, and it is possible that the neck and body were cast together as one piece. Another neck shows a row of human heads that wrap around the object’s circumference (British Museum 1940.10.17.2).

The assemblage from Puerto Nare was identified around a century after the "Tesoro de los Quimbayas" was excavated from two burials in La Soledad in the Quindío department. This "Tesoro" was one major aspect of how the "Quimbaya" region came to be defined in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Quimbayas were a group of people known to live in the 16th century on the eastern side of the Cauca River, south of Manizales and north of the La Vieja River (Herrera 1992, fig. 167; Langebaek 2016, 281; Uribe 2003, 26). They were among several Native groups living in the wider region of the Cauca Valley, including Quindos, Carrapas, Irras, Quinchías, and Picaras, their names being assigned by Spanish colonists. Early huaquería often involved people moving into this region from the northern parts of Antioquia, fleeing local conflicts and interested in the extraction of caucho (a form of rubber acquired from trees) for global export (Gamboa 2002, 61–62). The interest in Indigenous pasts became deeply related to the construction of the Colombian state (Villegas 2009).[3] Antiquarians like Ernesto Restrepo reconciled the objects excavated from this region, including the "Tesoro," with Spanish colonial texts. Restrepo (1929) helped create a "Quimbaya" race, inventing statements about their origins and practices. Over time, archaeologists have shifted the academic attention towards the Indigenous pasts of this region by studying settlement patterns and recognizing the longevity of its occupation (see Santos and Otero 2003).[4] The first human presence in the middle Cauca region has been shown to be ca. 10,000 years ago (Jaramillo 2008, 6), and there is support for referring to the archaeological region as "Middle Cauca" ("Cauca Medio") instead of "Quimbaya" (Cano 1995, 37).

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


Related objects: 1974.271.48, 1979.206.529, 1979.206.776, 1991.419.22, 1995.481.6

[1] Wiedemann (1979, 304) notes these terms.

[2] See Sáenz-Samper and Martinón-Torres 2017 for a discussion of another example of this red-gold surface color on metal objects in the northern Andes.

[3] Adrián Villegas kindly offered further insights on this historical context.

[4] Pablo Muñoz generously suggested this article.

Further Reading

Cano Echeverri, Martha Cecilia. Investigaciones arqueológicas en Santuario (Risaralda). Santafé de Bogotá: Fundación de Investigaciones Arqueológicas Nacionales, 1995.

Gamboa Hinestrosa, Pablo. El tesoro de los Quimbayas: Historia, identidad y patrimonio. Bogotá: Editorial Planeta Colombiana, 2002.

Herrera, Leonor. "El período Sonso Tardío y la conquista Española." In Calima: Diez mil años de historia en el suroccidente de Colombia, 151–77. Santafé de Bogotá: Fundación Pro Calima, 1992.

Jaramillo E., Luís Gonzalo. "El ‘Complejo Tesorito’ y la ocupación humana en la región Quimbaya." In Aguas arriba y aguas abajo: De la arqueología en las márgenes del Río Cauca, Curso Medio, edited by Luis Gonzalo Jaramillo E., 5–30. Bogotá: Ediciones Uniandes, 2008.

Langebaek Rueda, Carl Henrik. "La arqueología Quimbaya y la maldición de Midas." In El tesoro Quimbaya, edited by Alicia Perea, Ana Verde Casanova, and Andrés Gutiérrez Usillos, 279-289. Madrid: Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, 2016.

Museo del Oro, Banco de la República. Museo del Oro. Bogotá: Banco de la República, 2008.

Pérez de Barradas, José. Orfebrería prehispánica de Colombia: Estilos Quimbaya y otros: Láminas. Madrid: 1965.

Plazas, Clemencia. "Inventario de orfebrería Quimbaya Clásico." In El tesoro Quimbaya, edited by Alicia Perea, Ana Verde Casanova, and Andrés Gutiérrez Usillos, 261–78. Madrid: Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, 2016.

Restrepo Tirado, Ernesto. Ensayo etnográfico y arqueológico de la provincia de los Quimbayas en el Nuevo Reino de Granada. Sevilla: Imprenta y Librería de Eulogio de las Heras, 1929.

Sáenz-Samper, Juanita, and Marcos Martinón-Torres. "Depletion Gilding, Innovation and Life Histories: The Changing Colours of Nahuange Metalwork." Antiquity 91, no. 359 (2017): 1253–67.

Santos, Gustavo, and Helda Otero de Santos. "Arqueología de Antioquia: Balance y síntesis regional." Boletín de Antropología Universidad de Antioquia (2003): 71–123.

Uribe, María Alicia. Museo del Oro: Quimbaya. Bogotá: Banco de la República, 2003.

———. "Mujeres, calabazos, brillo y tumbaga: Símbolos de vida y transformación en la orfebrería Quimbaya Temprana." Boletín de Antropología Universidad de Antioquia 19, no. 36 (2005): 61–93.

Villegas Vélez, Álvaro. "Civilización, alteridad y antigüedades: El territorio, el pasado y lo indígena en Colombia, 1887-1920." In Prácticas, territorios y representaciones en Colombia 1849–1960, edited by Diana Luz Ceballos Gómez, 33-49. Medellín: Facultad de Ciencias Humanas y Económicas, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Sede Medellín, 2009.

Wiedemann, Inga. "The Folclore of Coca in the South-American Andes: Coca Pouches, Lime Calabashes and Rituals." Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 104, no. 2 (1979): 278–309.
[John Wise Ltd., New York, until 1957]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1957, on loan to the Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1957–1978

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