Monkey Pendant

Carchi-Nariño, Capulí

Not on view

Metalworkers in the region of Carchi and Nariño, located in northwestern Ecuador and southwestern Colombia, fabricated this pendant. Using gold or an alloy of gold with copper, they crafted the object through the process of lost wax casting. The pendant, likely an ear ornament, shows two monkeys in profile, at the ends of a thin crescent-shaped element. A geometric design emerges out of the center of the crescent.

All of the details of the pendant were first designed in a wax model. Similar pendants (e.g., Museo del Oro, Bogotá [hereafter MO] O25224 and O25225 in Pillsbury et al. 2017, cat. no. 87) tend to appear in pairs, as ear ornaments, raising the question of whether the artists created distinct wax models for objects in a pair, or whether they fabricated one mold from which they made nearly identical wax models. Furthermore, if the present example was part of a pair, the location of its partner is unknown.

In creating this pendant, it appears the work began in wax, rather than a mold for the wax. The artists worked in parts, shaping the monkey figures in wax and then pressing them into the wax crescent, which perhaps already had been created in wax with the design that emerges from its center. This act is evident especially on the reverse, where the feet of the monkeys appear to slightly spread onto the crescent. Outside of this feature, the obverse and reverse of the pendant are quite similar.

The monkeys appear in abstract form, nearly identical to those of the monkeys depicted on the aforementioned pair of pendants in the Museo del Oro (Bogotá). Their heads are circular with no features depicted. Each monkey is shown with two legs and feet that, in profile, could actually suggest four. Their tails curve inwards and then up. On similar pendants that form a pair (see Lleras 2015, fig. 63), monkeys are shown in the same positions as those on the present example, but their eyes and mouths have been detailed to indicate that, while their bodies are in profile, their heads are turned at ninety degrees.

From the center of the pendant at the Metropolitan, there is a vertical extension of metal that expands into a geometric design showing a diamond shape bordered by three triangles, spaced evenly apart on the left, right, and bottom corners of the diamond. All four of these shapes are outlined by metal and the center of each shape is open.

There is a circular perforation at the center of the crescent through which a person may have threaded material in order to suspend the pendant and wear it. The lack of burrs on either side of the perforation suggests that the artists subsequently polished this area. There are other possible suspension points, including inside the tails of the monkeys and between their front and hind legs, although using the central, circular perforation would have shown the ornament in balance and would have allowed a viewer to see the monkeys upright.

The presence of copper in the metal used to cast this object is reflected in the black oxidation seen at the edges of many parts of the ornament. Such oxidation would have occurred naturally but also could have arisen in the process of artificially enriching the surface in gold through depletion gilding. The object was likely polished or cleaned after excavation, and it is possible that this cleaning did not completely remove the oxidation at the edges. Scratches across the surfaces of the pendant are vestiges of this polishing. The presence of copper is also suggested by the green patina around the head, neck, and body of one of the monkey figures, on both sides. This patina is likely a copper corrosion product. On the same monkey figure, there appears to have been a slight fracture on the tail and on the crescent form near the monkey’s front feet. A colorless adhesive seems to have been applied since the object’s excavation in order to repair these fractured areas.

Typically these pendants are associated with the metalworking of peoples in the Andean highland region of the Nariño department of Colombia with some extension to the south in the Carchi province of Ecuador (cf. Lleras 2015, 138-166). They tend to be part of the Capulí style, the name of a ceramic complex once thought to precede the Piartal (or Piartal-Tuza) complex (Uribe 1992, 8) but more recently considered to overlap with it (Lleras 2015, 198). Plazas (1998, 28) notes that understanding the relationships between Capulí and Piartal, and whether they relate to two distinct ethnicities, has proved challenging.

In metalworking associated with the Capulí style, artists worked with gold or alloys of gold and copper, mainly created objects through hammering, but also used lost wax casting, and often undertook depletion gilding. Some similar ornaments (e.g., MO O25224 and O25225) were created through a combination of casting and hammering. Radiocarbon dates associated with the Capulí style range from A.D. 950 +/- 50 (Beta-148001) to A.D. 1470 +/-40 (Beta-146384) (Lleras 2015, 142) and include dates at the sites of Las Cruces (A.D. 1100 +/- 115 (IAN-67)) and La Victoria (A.D. 1460 +/- 60 (IAN-98)) (Uribe 1992, 9).[1] In addition to some degree of shared practices in terms of ceramics, peoples in the Carchi-Nariño region show similarities in how they buried the deceased. Across a range of sites, tombs may be circular and include burials of multiple people, in seated, flexed positions (Molestina 2006, 380). However, some tombs associated with Capulí materials in the Nariño region are especially deep, between 20 and 40 m, and include a shaft with a side chamber (Uribe 1992, 9).

Iconography is another realm that shows a degree of shared practice in this region. Monkeys are a common theme in the materials people produced and attest to interaction with peoples in the Amazon region, where these mammals would have been more likely found (Molestina 2006, 387).[2] Rodríguez (1992, 75-76, figs. 85-87) identifies many of those depicted as Ateles spp., having long, prehensile tails, and notes that similar monkeys appear on petroglyphs at Berruecos in Arboleda, Nariño.

At La Florida, in the area of Quito, two people were buried with gold sheet ornaments that depict monkeys, the ornaments tying the shrouds in which the people were interred (Molestina 2006, 387). At least one shows a monkey in profile, its tail curling more dramatically than those seen on the present ornament, and it was buried with a person who also wore shell ornaments as part of their clothing. On an individual pendant (Museo Antropológico y de Arte Contemporáneo (Guayaquil) GA 5-2713-84) from Piedra Hollada in Tulcán, monkeys are depicted in a similar way to those on the example in the Metropolitan, but the crescent shape shows further detail, with six short elliptical projections beneath it and a stepped design emerging from the center. This stepped design is quite similar to some that appear on wooden spindle whorls from San Isidro in Nariño that Cardale and Falchetti (1980, 1) ascribe to the Piartal-Tuza complex, noting that these geometric motifs appear directly in textiles as well. It is certainly possible that the geometric design at the center of the pendant in the Metropolitan relates to motifs in other media, such as textiles and the tools used to make them. Indeed, people in the Nariño region have a long tradition of fabricating textiles, and were to known to have used llama wool, but some forms that typically are considered textile productions, like baskets and mats, were made with metal (Cortés 1991). Pasto people, who lived in this region in the 16th century before Inca and then Spanish invasions and whose descendants live there today, were farmers who obtained cotton, in exchange for beads of gold and shell, from the south and west to create textiles (Rappaport 2011). Living at these high elevations, Pastos also acquired salt, coca, and gold (likely before shaping it into beads) from lowland regions.

In short, this pendant, as an ear ornament that was probably part of a pair, as a depiction of monkeys that the artists may have seen coming from more lowland, forested areas, and as an object of gold, a material people traded in and out of this region, indexes the people, geography, and relationships that are not immediately visible when the pendant is considered alone, but that are indeed a part of its history and its present.

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

[1] There is no information provided in the sources cited for these dates regarding the specific organic material that was dated or its archaeological context, so, at present, these dates should be treated with some caution.

[2] Rodríguez (1992, 75) notes, however, that Aotus trivirgatus is a monkey species that is found to live up to 3,200 m.a.s.l. This species shows large eyes and a non-prehensile tail and may be depicted on certain metal ornaments, such as the one published in Lleras 2015, fig. 63 and Rodríguez 1992, fig. 84.

Further Reading

Cardale de Schrimpff, Marianne and Ana María Falchetti de Sáenz. "Objetos prehispánicos de madera procedentes del altiplano nariñense, Colombia." Boletín del Museo del Oro 9 (1980): 1-15.

Cortés Moreno, Emilia. Así éramos, así somos: Textiles y tintes de Nariño. Pasto: Banco de la República, Museo del Oro, 1991.

Lleras Pérez, Roberto. Metallurgy in Ancient Ecuador. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2015.

Molestina Zaldumbide, María del Carmen. "El pensamiento simbólico de los habitantes de La Florida (Quito-Ecuador)." Bulletin de l’Institut français d’études andines 35, no. 3 (2006): 377-395.

Pillsbury, Joanne, Timothy Potts, and Kim N. Richter, eds. Golden Kingdoms: Luxury Arts in the Ancient Americas. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2017.

Plazas, Clemencia. "Cronología de la metalurgia colombiana." Boletín del Museo del Oro 44-45 (1998): 3-77.

Rappaport, Joanne. "Carchi Province (Ecuador) and the Department of Nariño (Colombia)." In Costume and History in Highland Ecuador, edited by Ann Pollard Rowe, 119-129. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011.

Rodríguez Bastidas, Edgar Emilio. Fauna precolombina de Nariño. Santafé de Bogotá: Fundación de Investigaciones Arqueológicas Nacionales (Banco de la República), Instituto Colombiano de Antropología, 1992.

Uribe, María Victoria. "La arqueología del altiplano nariñense." In Arte de la tierra: Nariño, 8-12. Bogotá: Fondo de Promoción de la Cultura, Banco Popular, 1992.

Monkey Pendant, Gold, Carchi-Nariño, Capulí

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