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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Costa Rican Jade : Atlantic Watershed Jade Pendant of a Toad
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Atlantic Watershed Jade Pendant of a Toad - PF.3163
Origin: Eastern Costa Rica
Circa: 1 AD to 500 AD
Dimensions: 4" (10.2cm) high x 3.125" (7.9cm) wide
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.

An ancient and talented lapidary artist most probably was commissioned by a shaman or shaman-chieftain to create this mystical pendant of a toad. The toad is an amphibian of the genus Bufo and plays an important and early role in the religious symbolism of Ancient Meso-America. The species, which is skillfully depicted here, the Bufo marinus, is a giant toad that produces a powerful hallucinogen known as bufotenine through glands at the back of the head. This toad is of special importance and has been depicted as early as the Formative Olmec Period (ca. 1500BC - 900BC). There appears to be a history of drug-induced states during ritual in Meso-America. The ancient Costa Ricans are of no exception to this hypothesis. During ecstatic trances by taking this powerful hallucinogen, bufotenine, the shaman or shaman-chieftain interacts directly with the supernatural world. This ritual was religiously and politically very important and was most probably watched by everyone in the community. This hallucinogen from the Bufo marinus is so strong that it may last several days. Truly a remarkable and psychedelic phenomenon for the ritually drug- induced shaman and the observers, as well, this pendant not only represents the highly religious and political importance of its owner, it symbolizes the owner's communion with the gods. - (PF.3163)


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