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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Costa Rican Jade : Atlantic Watershed Jade Profile Masked Figure Pendant
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Atlantic Watershed Jade Profile Masked Figure Pendant - PF.3361
Origin: Eastern Costa Rica
Circa: 500 AD to 700 AD
Dimensions: 3.375" (8.6cm) high
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Medium: Jade

Location: United States
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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 fascinating anthropomorphic pendant is carved of jade, a rare and beautiful stone that is much harder than obsidian. Jade is the toughest and most durable of the stones, and it cannot be worked by the flaking and chipping procedures that are effective on flint and other quartz minerals. Its superiority, thus, could have become evident only at the Neolithic level of technology, when stone could be worked by abrasion. This pendant is a splendidly carved jade full of rich symbolism. Possibly representing a chieftain or a shaman warrior, he wears a waistband and he has his hands placed on his chest. The string- sawed separation between arms and body, and his legs are very clear. His allies with animal world are depicted with clarity; two birds are perched on his head and two crocodile (or serpent) heads are carved on a band that encircles both of his ankles. This beautiful pendant's cool green color and the perfect symmetry is visually and emotionally soothing. Its calm and timeless presence and power appeal to our senses as it did to people of Ancient Costa Rica. Even across the obstacles of time and culture, the finely carved jade amulet's grace, vibrant power, and magic are undeniably evident today. - (PF.3361)


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