Nose Ornament

Date: A.D. 1–1000

Geography: Colombia, Caribbean Lowlands

Culture: Zenú

Medium: Gold

Dimensions: H. 1 1/8 × W. 7 1/4 in. (2.9 × 18.4 cm)

Classification: Metal-Ornaments

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979

Accession Number: 1979.206.545


Ancient gold work from Colombia varied in style, technology, and imagery. Nose ornaments especially were made in many shapes and styles over millennia. Forms and sizes are sometimes so extraordinary that they seem unwearable to the modern viewer. Depictions of human figures in ceramic and metal, however, show such nose ornaments being worn. Long, heavy ornaments with wide ends, such as these examples, are seen placed in the septum of the nose. The ornaments from the Sinú region in northwestern Colombia are often cast with delicate false filigree of braided and spiral elements, as here.

According to postconquest, sixteenth-century records, Sinú gold objects came from a region called Gran Zenú. Located on the tropical lowlands of the Caribbean coast, Gran Zenú was composed of three provinces—Zenufana, Finzenú, and Panzenú—and stretched east from the Sinú River to the Nechí and Magdalena river areas. Recent archival research relates the gold works from this region to the Zenú, a people present at the time of the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. The descendants of the Zenú still live east of the lower Sinú River.