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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Costa Rican Jade : Atlantic Watershed Jade Pendant of a Bat with Alligator Head Wings
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Atlantic Watershed Jade Pendant of a Bat with Alligator Head Wings - PF.2171
Origin: Eastern Costa Rica
Circa: 1 AD to 500 AD
Dimensions: 8" (20.3cm) wide
Catalogue: V7
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Medium: Jade


Location: United States
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Description
In the context of Pre-Columbian art and archaeology, jade is a generic term that refers to any variety of hard, dense stones that were worked with great skill by native artists. Although jade is generally thought to be green, it can actually be a range of colors. Jade carving flourished in ancient Costa Rica for over a thousand years, roughly from 500 B.C. to 900 A.D., although the period of greatest artistic accomplishment lasted from 300 to 700 A.D. It is believed that jade working began during an extended period of agricultural abundance that allowed the ancient society to dedicate part of its energies toward the cultivation of artistic pursuits.

Jade was considered to be a sacred material by the ancient populations of Costa Rica, held in even higher esteem than gold. Generally, it was thought to symbolize that vital life force that sustains us all. The color green is naturally associated with verdant plant life. Specifically, jade was thought to symbolize the sprouting maize plant, that staple of the Pre-Columbian diet. It has also been suggested that jade represents water. Either way, we can be certain that jade represented the very essence of life itself.

To date, no native sources of jade have been discovered in Costa Rica, suggesting an extended trade network existed that imported this precious resource from Mesoamerica into Costa Rica where it was carved by local artists. Such trade also would have brought great wealth and likely reinforced the social stratification of the peoples. Jade may have served as a status marker to distinguish the elite from the masses and solidify their hold on power. We can picture an ancient ruler or shaman presiding over a sacred ceremonial adorned in brilliant green jade pendants and jewelry. The ancient Costa Ricans believe that the system of social hierarchy also extended into the afterlife. Therefore, jade objects were buried with the elite so that their power could be maintained throughout eternity.

This large, impressive pendant combines two animals associated in Ancient America with magic and power: the bat and the alligator. The wings of the stylized central bat become two fierce reptile heads. Meant to be horizontally suspended from a cord, this remarkable ornament was certainly the property of a person of rank and wealth. Its function, besides acting as an insignia of power, was no doubt to frighten away all evil and to keep the wearer safe from harm. Even in a world that no longer believes in such notions, we feel this piece's aura of strong, protective magic.
- (PF.2171)

 

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