Nose Ornament

Early Quimbaya

Not on view

Metalworkers in the Quimbaya tradition created this nose ornament through lost-wax casting. (For more information on this process, please see Metropolitan Museum of Art 1974.271.48, and for more information on the Quimbaya name, please see 1979.206.529.) It is likely made of a gold alloy. A person may have worn the ornament by inserting the ends of the central opening into their nostrils. The ornament is hollow and has a rounded shape. It bears similarities in form to other Quimbaya nose ornaments like 2002.322.7, but, in this case, the upper and lower edges of the ornament slightly curve inward at their centers. At its central opening, each side shows a short group of bands. Except for these bands, the ornament is undecorated. The central opening extends farther into the ornament, widening to form a circular shape near the center of the object. The ornament is especially smooth and polished.

To create this object, metalworkers first needed to work with wax, forming the basic shape and adding thin bands of wax to this model to decorate the internal ends of the opening. On each end, three bands were added. Interestingly, there is a very narrow, dark band that extends around the edges of the ornament. This dark band may relate to a solder that was used to form the ornament out of two halves. Metalworkers may have cast these two halves separately and then joined them by soldering.[1] People may have polished the ornament after it was cast, and further polishing may have occurred after its excavation.

This object is similar to a range of nose ornaments from the “Tesoro de los Quimbayas,” which was excavated from two burials in La Soledad in the Quindío department of Colombia in 1890 (Perea et al. 2016, 312-13; for more information on the assemblage, see Gamboa 2002). The “Tesoro” dates to the 3rd century A.D. A notable difference, however, is that the present example is significantly larger (3.5 cm in height) than those from La Soledad (mostly 1 to 1.5 cm in height). Nevertheless, the most similar nose ornaments of the group are Museo de América, Madrid 17402-4 and 17402-13, which also display banded ends on their openings.

It is important to note that some similar nose ornaments also have been recovered in the Caribbean Lowlands of Colombia. Falchetti (1995, 144-45, fig. 67d-e, table 14) identifies 14 from this region and assigns them to the Zenú tradition of metalworking, while noting similar objects from the middle Cauca Valley. The geographical and chronological proximity of Zenú and Early Quimbaya traditions of metalworking does raise the question of whether communities exchanged objects, while also sharing technological ideas (see note [1] for example).

Nose ornaments are a common form of representation on Early Quimbaya as well as Late Quimbaya (A.D. 700-1600) objects. An Early example is a poporo (lime container) from Puerto Nare in the department of Antioquia (Museo del Oro, Bogotá O32852). The poporo is in the form of a female figure who wears a pointed ornament inserted in the nostrils, while a much larger ornament extends from the nose and shows a thin plaque attached to it. The figure in 1974.271.48 also appears to be wearing a nose ornament. A pendant (Museo del Oro, Bogotá O06516) depicts a female figure wearing a relatively thin, triangular nose ornament. Like the example from Puerto Nare, this figure also carries thin plaques on other parts of its body that certainly would produce sound when the object moves.[2]

Late Quimbaya materials also offer some context for the nose ornaments that peoples in this region may have worn. This is particularly true of ceramic figures, such as 1995.481.6, which illustrates a seated figure wearing a thin gold ring through their nose. Others depict a figure wearing a metal ornament, such as a large, flat, crescent-shaped ornament on Museo del Oro, Bogotá C12596 from Armenia in the Quindío department. Still others wear a nose ornament modeled in clay and likely fired with the rest of the figure, such as Museo del Oro, Bogotá C012606 and C012607, both from El Edén, also in Armenia. It is clear that nose ornaments from this region of the middle Cauca Valley and the Central Cordillera of Colombia exhibit great variety. Some were cast and given depth, while others were hammered and decorated with geometric and anthropomorphic or zoomorphic designs (see Restrepo 1929, pl. 23 and Uribe 2003, 23-24 for further examples of Early and Late Quimbaya nose ornaments).

Uribe (2003, 24) suggests that certain figures shown wearing nose ornaments are caciques, or political leaders, taking on different roles, such as those of shamans. These figures are depicted with human and animal features on Late Quimbaya hammered metal pectorals. A similar interpretation of the Late Quimbaya ceramic figures is offered by Arango (1976). If the people who wore ornaments like the present example, especially as depicted on Early Quimbaya metal objects, are key political figures, then it appears that they are often women. The sex of the figures on the Late Quimbaya pectorals is not usually indicated, while the ceramic figures may be shown as male, female, or without a sex suggested.

Another point is that archaeological evidence suggests greater availability of gold objects to a wider part of the population in this region in the Late Quimbaya period (Langebaek 2016, 286-88). This situation contrasts with earlier centuries, when the distribution of such objects was more concentrated and when some settlements focused their efforts on controlling gold and salt sources. Even if access to an object like the present example was not especially wide, it is important to recognize that people in the middle Cauca Valley and Central Cordillera were participating in larger networks of exchange, particularly with people in the Calima Valley through transfers of ceramics and metals (Langebaek 2016), but also likely through a range of organic materials or minerals like salt (see Gnecco 2006, 205-206). This nose ornament, then, may not simply be tied to the power of one person, but more so, a testament to the sharing of complementary resources over a broad geographic area.

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

[1] This feature is not commonly noted on Quimbaya nose ornaments, but it does seem to appear on some Zenú nose ornaments, such as 2002.322.6. [2] Both of the examples noted in this paragraph along with the three noted in the following paragraph in the Museo del Oro, Bogotá can be seen in Museo del Oro, Banco de la República (2007, 132-3, 138, 151).

Related objects: 1974.271.48, 1979.206.529, 1979.209.776, 1995.481.6, 2002.322.7

Further reading

Arango Cano, Jesús. Cerámica quimbaya y calima. Bogotá: Plaza & Janes, 1976.

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.

Gnecco, Cristóbal. “Desarrollo prehispánico desigual en el suroccidente de Colombia.” In Contra la tiranía tipológica en Colombia: Una visión desde suramérica, edited by Cristóbal Gnecco and Carl Henrik Langebaek, 191-214. Bogotá: Universidad de los Andes, 2006.

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. The Art of Gold: The Legacy of Pre-Hispanic Colombia: Collection of the Gold Museum in Bogotá. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2007.

Perea, Alicia, Ana Verde Casanova, and Andrés Gutiérrez Usilos, eds. El tesoro Quimbaya. 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.

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

Nose Ornament, Gold alloy, Early Quimbaya

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