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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Archive : Taino Stone Zemi Celt
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Taino Stone Zemi Celt - AM.0329
Origin: Dominican Republic
Circa: 1100 AD to 1500 AD
Dimensions: 10" (25.4cm) high x 5" (12.7cm) wide
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Style: Taino
Medium: Stone

Additional Information: sold

Location: Great Britain
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The Taino flourished in the Caribbean between c.1200-1500. They were the first Americans to make contact with the Spanish in 1492 and to suffer as a result. Many of the features today associated with the Taino, such as ball- courts and three-pointers (trigonolitos), were first used by their predecessors who migrated to the islands from both South America and Mesoamerica. This highly polished stone celt is a marvelous example of the artistic capabilities of Taino craftsmen. Undecorated celts served a practical function and were often used as axe heads (the ovoid stones were attached to long wooden shafts for this purpose). The carved examples undoubtedly belonged to the Taino chieftains, or caciques, who utilized them as symbols of authority and wealth.

This example depicts a zemi, the physical manifestation of a god, spirit or ancestor. The Taino were polytheistic and worshipped a number of deities whom they believed controlled the elements, the success of the crops and fertility. Ancestor worship was also important and both the chieftains and shamans claimed to be able to communicate with the dead. This was made possible by inducing a hallucinogenic state through the inhalation of cohoba. Many Taino art-forms depict zemis in skeletal form. This may relate to burial practices among the Taino elite. It was customary for the corpse to be exposed to the elements and the skulls and long bones were then preserved in wooden urns or hung from the rafters of the house. The zemi has large round eye sockets and an oval shaped mouth. The rib cage is visible immediately below the face. The arms and legs are not clearly defined, but the posture is reminiscent of other zemi sculptures in which the arms rest on the top of the figure’s knees. The prominent phallus may suggest some connection with fertility rites. Complex geometric motifs, consisting of coils, triangles and circles form two curved bands above and below the figure. Although their function may be purely decorative, they might also recall the design of tattoos or elaborate clothing worn by the Taino elite.

The quality and detail of the carving are remarkable. The face is unusually expressive and great care has been taken to carve out the space between the ribcage and the arms. Many other examples are completely solid. This was clearly an object of considerable spiritual and social importance to its original owners which continues to astound us today. (AM) - (AM.0329)


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