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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Costa Rican Jade : Central Pacific Jade Figure-Celt Pendant
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Central Pacific Jade Figure-Celt Pendant - PF.2401
Origin: Western Costa Rica
Circa: 200 AD to 600 AD
Dimensions: 5.25" (13.3cm) high
Catalogue: V8
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Medium: Jade

Location: UAE
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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.

Objects shaped in the form of an axe are an integral component of virtually every culture. However, Costa Rican jade axes in the form of figure-celt pendants, such as this stunning example, are distinctive for many reasons. Jade is a very rare and unique gemstone. Found in only half a dozen parts of the world, it is an extremely hard stone and, because of its structure, the toughest and most durable of stones. It cannot be worked by flaking and chipping procedures that are effective on flint and other quartz minerals, so its superiority could only become evident at the Neolithic level of technology, when stone could be worked by abrasion. While the early Costa Rican artists' exquisite craftsmanship in jade is tied to that of the ancient Olmec, both in technology and style, the Costa Rican artists eventually developed their own distinct characteristics as evidenced in this spirited jade figure-celt pendant. With the body of a human, depicted form the waist up, this figure-celt stares out at us with a mask-like expression in his skillfully carved face. A headdress with incised patterns adorns his head, while other incised lines form fierce-looking teeth in his gaping mouth. A ritual pose, perhaps that of a shaman, is further evidenced by the carving of bent arms and hands, with fingers splayed in a downward position. To experience this powerful work of Ancient Costa Rican art is to engage ourselves in a magical journey through time and space, for we too are participating in the ancient emotional responses that this spirited figure-celt pendant evokes. - (PF.2401)


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