Lime Container (Poporo)

Date: 1st–7th century

Geography: Colombia

Culture: Quimbaya

Medium: Gold

Dimensions: H. 9 x W. 5 1/4 in. (22.9 x 13.3 cm)

Classification: Metal-Containers

Credit Line: Jan Mitchell and Sons Collection, Gift of Jan Mitchell, 1991

Accession Number: 1991.419.22


The bulging, curved-out lines of this bottle are bold and give it a particular visual appeal. Flattened front to back, the container is embellished on each side with nude female figures in relief. The standing figures have peaceful, almost smiling expressions on their faces. Their only ornaments are double-strand bands on forehead, neck, wrists, knees, and ankles. Five rings rim the earlobes. The meaning of the nude images is unknown. The bottle was cast over a clay core that was removed after casting, leaving the bottle hollow inside. With its expertly finished surface, it represents a technical and artistic high point in Precolumbian metalwork.

Lime containers, or poporos, were part of standard coca-chewing paraphernalia, and were made throughout Andean South America for thousands of years in a variety of materials, ranging from wood, stone, bone, shell, and ceramic to gold. Traditionally coca was chewed by placing a quid of leaves in the cheek and gradually adding powdered lime from the container to enhance the stimulating effect.

The Quimbaya style was first identified in 1890 when six important individuals, buried with 122 works in gold, were discovered near the village of Filandia in the middle Cauca Valley. Among the many objects were seventeen magnificent poporos that contained powdered lime made from seashells; this bottle still contains such powdered lime. The 122 objects, now known as the Treasure of the Quimbayas, are in the Museo de América in Madrid.