Mace head

Salinar artist(s)

Not on view

This gracefully crafted mace head has four fan-like projections, each separated by two nub or spike-like elements. Two vertical inscribed lines extend down from each flange to the bottom of the mace head. The stone has a hollow central core that originally held a wooden shaft. At the bottom a slight lip extends around the circumference. Traces of red cinnabar remain in the recesses between the projecting surfaces. The combination of flanges and nubs yields an object of power and deadly effectiveness. The narrow edges of the projections provide points of contact that would have exerted much more force than when struck than a simple round stone, similar to the way in which being stepped upon by a stiletto heel is much more painful than being stepped upon by a wider heel.

The proper cultural attribution of stone mace heads of this type is unclear. Carved stone mace heads were made as early as the middle of the first millennium B.C. in the Central Andes, by artisans of the Chavín and Cupisnique cultures. A sculpted mace head was excavated from a burial at Kuntur Wasi in the northern highlands of Peru (Fux, 2013:310, cat. no. 105). Objects stylistically similar to the present mace head have been excavated from burials of the Salinar culture, which dominated Peru’s northern coastal region from 200 B.C.–A.D. 100 (Burger, 1998; Strong and Evans, 1952:55–56, pl. IIIE).

The process by which stone objects were crafted in this period is not known, but the shape was probably accomplished by initially chipping the rock with stone tools, followed delicate refinements including polishing the mace head with fine quartz sand as an abrasive. The numerous chips on the edges may be the result of striking other stones during battle, as it is unlikely that stone would be fractured by contact with bone or flesh.

References and further reading

Burger, Richard L., “Mace Head,” in Andean Art at Dumbarton Oaks, Vol. 1, edited by Elizabeth H. Boone (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1996), pl. 9, pp. 84–86.

Fux, Peter, ed., Chavín: Peru’s Enigmatic Temple in the Andes (Zurich: Scheidegger & Spiess, 2013).

Strong, William D., and Clifford Evans, Jr., Cultural Stratigraphy in the Virú Valley Northern Peru. The Formative and Florescent Epochs (New York: Columbia University Press, 1952).

Mace head, Salinar artist(s), Stone, pigment, Salinar

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.