Art/ Collection/ Art Object


300 B.C.–A.D. 1000
Colombia, middle Cauca Valley and Central Cordillera or Caribbean Lowlands
Early Quimbaya or Zenú
Gold alloy
H. 8 1/2 x Diam. 2 3/8 in. (21.6 x 6.1 cm)
Metal-Musical Instruments
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
Not on view
This rattle was likely produced by metalworkers in the middle Cauca Valley and in parts of the Central Cordillera of Colombia, often referred to as the Quimbaya region. At the same time, the rattle bears resemblance to certain objects from the Caribbean Lowlands, part of the Zenú region (please see below). The object adopts the form of a rattle made out of a gourd (calabaza, calabazo, or totuma in Spanish). (For more information on gourd iconography in Quimbaya metalworking, please see Metropolitan Museum of Art 1979.206.776). Its short finial is conical with four pointed protrusions at its base that are spaced evenly apart from one another. Between these protrusions, there is a circumferential band that appears to be cast filigree, but the casting process has blurred some of the filigree design. Starting from the finial, the object gradually widens before taking on a spherical shape, suggesting the form of a gourd. This central spherical region features six long, elliptical openings. Two of these are diametrically opposed to one another. Four others are spaced evenly around the circumference and appear slightly lower on the rattle than the first two.

Around the base of this spherical region, there is a tangle of metal bands that suggests cords made of an organic material. People may use cords to attach the gourd to a handle in order to create a rattle. There appear to be at least nine bands from top to bottom, but they overlap one another, and some that appear to be one band may be comprised of a few. The four openings mentioned above partially cut into this banded design. Moving farther down the object, there is a rounded band of metal that is set off by slight recesses above and below it. Beyond this lower recess, the form gradually narrows before widening again. This lower region—the handle of the rattle—is approximately half the length of the object. At the end of the object opposite the finial, there is a short trapezoidal protrusion. A circular perforation appears at the center of this protrusion, and there is a shallow, circular recess perpendicular to it, on the end of the handle. This recess contains ceramic residue.

Inside the spherical area, there are 11 small metal spheres. When someone lightly moves the rattle, the spheres strike each other and the walls of the rattle. This produces pointed, loud sounds. Interestingly, the spheres do not move into the regions of the rattle outside of the central part, suggesting these regions are solid, or otherwise disconnected from the center. The ceramic residue visible in the recess at one end is likely from the core material used to make this object.

Metalworkers fabricated the rattle through lost-wax casting (please see Metropolitan Museum of Art 1974.271.48 for further information on this process). First, they created a ceramic core and inserted pre-cast metal spheres into this core. These spheres were likely made of a metal with a higher melting point than that used for the entire rattle, so that the spheres would not melt on casting the larger object. Then, they built a wax model around the core. They may have produced what appears to be a filigree design on the finial by braiding wax threads. The artists then wrapped threads of wax around the wax base of the spherical center. This formed the banded design visible today. The thinness and the length of the bands offer some idea of the appearance of the wax the artists were manipulating. After applying these wax threads, the artists chiseled out the elliptical openings—at least the bottom four openings that extend into the banded region. While the object was a wax model, the artists made a perforation in the trapezoidal end and the face perpendicular to it. Once the object was cast, and having removed the investment around the object, the metalworkers removed the core material from much of the rattle. This allowed the pre-cast metal spheres to move freely in the center of the object.

There is fine porosity especially visible on the handle, closer to the center of the rattle. This feature arose from the trapping of gas molecules as the molten metal cooled. The object is highly polished and shows a golden color overall with some pink color on the handle. Considering other analyses of Early Quimbaya metal objects (e.g., Uribe 2005), the rattle is likely made from an alloy of gold and copper, where silver present in the metal arose as part of the gold source.

There are no known analogues to this object, although there is a range of metal objects from northern and southwestern Colombia primarily associated with the production of sound (see Bray 2005, fig. III.24 for a Yotoco trumpet and Falchetti 1995, 187, fig. 86 for Zenú examples). One example of a rattle made from a gourd is from Caribbean Colombia (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, Philadelphia 32-6-95). Holes were made all over the gourd, and there are seeds or stones inside of it. Cords have been wrapped to help attach short wooden handles to the gourd. Other related materials include figures fabricated in the Quimbaya tradition and made of metal that show people holding rattles (Pérez de Barradas 1966, fig. 2 [figure to the right], 8 [three figures on the left and one at top right]). These tend to have a wider, spherical region at least on one end, and a person will be shown holding one in each hand. Besides rattles, these handheld objects may be bells with long stems or poporos, containers for lime.

While the rattle’s size, surface appearance, and prominence of its gourd shape suggest similarities to Quimbaya metal production, there is the possibility that Zenú metalworkers created the object. Falchetti (1995, fig. 86a) illustrates this rattle and implies it is from the Caribbean Lowlands of Colombia. Apparently, there is another similar metal rattle recovered from the Serranía de San Jacinto, the northern extension of the Zenú region, but this is not illustrated in the 1995 volume. In the Museo del Oro, Bogotá, there are three ceramic rattles from the Caribbean Lowlands (MO C12147, MO C12772, and MO C13430).[1] The last of these three is from San Martín de Loba in the Bolívar department. Their design is similar to that of the present example in the Metropolitan. They have a handle as well as a rounded, gourd-like shape that serves as the head of the rattle, along with a band between the handle and head that suggests the material used to tie these parts together. They also feature long slits in the head. Of course, the recovery of a rattle in one location does not necessitate that it was fabricated in that place. Certain nose ornaments, for example, are indicative of the overlapping of metalworking traditions or the sharing of technical knowledge between communities in the middle Cauca Valley and Central Cordillera and the Caribbean Lowlands (see, for instance, 1979.206.534). The ambiguity of this rattle’s place of fabrication is reflected in the chronology assigned for the object, 300 B.C.–A.D. 1000, which encompasses the timeframes of the Early Quimbaya (300 B.C.–A.D. 700) and Early Zenú (A.D. 1–1000) metalworking traditions. (For more information on the context of Zenú metallurgy, please see, for example, 1979.206.737.)

Furthermore, the question of who may have used this rattle and in what context is open. It is clear, though, that sound-making instruments could be part of large assemblages deposited in human burials. A trumpet (Museo de América, Madrid 17435, showing two human figures), was excavated as part of a group of objects, known as the "Tesoro de los Quimbayas," from two burials in La Soledad in the Quindío department in 1890 (Gamboa 2002). The assemblage dates to the 3rd century A.D. Huaqueros, people who excavate sites and may not be professional archaeologists, apparently recovered a range of other instruments, including flutes and drums made of gold from La Soledad on other occasions (Gutiérrez 2016, 148, 150; and see Rivera 2008 for more discussion of huaquería, the culture of excavating by huaqueros, in the middle Cauca Valley).

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


Related objects: 1974.271.48, 1979.206.534, 1979.206.737, 1979.206.776, 1995.481.6

[1] Juan Pablo Quintero kindly shared information related to these three ceramic rattles.


Falchetti, Ana María. El oro del Gran Zenú. Bogotá: Banco de la República, 1995, fig. 86a.

Further reading

Bray, Warwick. "Craftsmen and Farmers: The Archaeology of the Yotoco Period." In Calima and Malagana: Art and Archaeology in Southwestern Colombia, edited by Marianne Cardale Schrimpff, 98–139. Bogotá: Pro Calima Foundation, 2005.

Falchetti, Ana María. El oro del Gran Zenú. Bogotá: Banco de la República, 1995.

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

Gutiérrez Usilos, Andrés. "Iconografía y función del ajuar funerario del Tesoro Quimbaya: Contexto arqueológico para una interpretación sobre el conjunto conservado en el Museo de América." In El tesoro Quimbaya, edited by Alicia Perea, Ana Verde Casanova, and Andrés Gutiérrez Usillos, 91–154. Madrid: Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, 2016.

Pérez de Barradas, José. Orfebrería prehispánica de Colombia: Estilos Quimbaya y otros: Texto. Madrid: 1966.

Rivera Fellner, Miguel Ángel. "La guaquería en Caldas: Identidades ficticias y patrimonio cultural." In Aguas arriba y aguas abajo: De la arqueología en las márgenes del Río Cauca, Curso Medio, edited by Luis Gonzalo Jaramillo E., 141–57. Bogotá: Ediciones Uniandes, 2008.

Uribe, María Alicia. "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.
[Ralph M. Chait, New York, until 1957]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1957, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1957–1978

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