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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Costa Rican Jade : Guanacaste-Nicoya Jade Female Figure-Celt Pendant
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Guanacaste-Nicoya Jade Female Figure-Celt Pendant - PF.3160
Origin: Western Costa Rica
Circa: 100 AD to 500 AD
Dimensions: 5.875" (14.9cm) high x 1.875" (4.8cm) wide
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Style: Guanacaste-Nicoya
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.

This is a magnificent representation of an obviously symbolic, high-status female of the Ancient Costa Ricans. Skillful carving and drilling techniques distinguish this lustrous deep green pendant. It depicts a human figure portrayed as an axe-goddess. This is a celt like polished blade that symbolically represents a functional polished celt that was used as a forest-clearing tool, which is associated with agriculture. The figure is in a formal, rather stiff pose, seen from the waist up. The hands meet at the belly and the face is serene, almost severe or mask like. It is a ritual pose, perhaps of a priestess. This suggests use in a ritual context. The figure's cap is incised with a bird, an "ally" of the skies with rich mythological significance. Below the bird, there is a decorative band between two solid bands. The owner of this beautiful object was obviously important, both politically and religiously. There are drilled holes for suspension for this pendant to be worn. Although the precise meaning of this superb lapidary work of art is as yet unclear, the fine artistry of the Ancient Costa Ricans clearly represents a highly sophisticated and flourishing culture. A culture whose art appeases our thirst for beauty and innovation and lingers in our minds and hearts with awe and wonder. - (PF.3160)


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