Costa Rica, Guanacaste–Nicoya
Jadeite; 7 7/8 in. (20 cm)
Purchase, Stephanie H. Berheim and Jan and Marica Vilcek Gifts, 2011 (2011.364)
The slender celt-form pendants of Central America, worn about the neck on a thong, had a serious presence during the early centuries A.D. Carefully crafted of various types of greenstone, of preference a blue-green jadeite indicative of high status, the shape takes its meaning from celts, or axes. Celts were the essential tool of the ancient inhabitants of Central America and Mexico and came to have symbolic import. The most common ornamental celt in Central America was a bird with a tall crest, beady eyes, and a large beak extending down the chest. The same slender format ornamented at the top was used to depict other figures, like this one with a helmet mast encasing its head. A small fat animal sits on top of the figure’s head, large ear flares frame the face, and a long tongue, curled up at the bottom, emerges from the wide mouth. The hands meet at the center, below a chest ornament. Variations on the helmet mask include a fat bird on top of the head instead of an animal and folded wings at the sides instead of arms.