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Bead of a Macaw Bird Head

Maya, Early Classic
200-650/750 CE

Not on view


Delicately carved on all six sides, this object, representing the head of a macaw, is the smallest decorated jade bead in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection. The back of the head is incised with cross-hatching, likely indicating a blanket of layered feathers. Perforated vertically from the top of the head to the neck area, this work is labeled as a “bead,” but it is hardly known how the object would have been used. Its suspension may have allowed it to rotate freely, presenting any of its carved sides at any given moment.
The diminutive size alone points to the advanced level of craftsmanship required to render this image in stone. The eyes were shaped using a tubular drill, and the remaining lines were produced by grinding.

The value of this pendant stems primarily from the intense “neon green” color of the stone, a color akin to the bright green of quetzal plumes. This may explain the tiny dimensions of the pendant, as every nodule of jade in this striking color would have been transformed into a refined object.

Pillsbury, Joanne, Miriam Doutriaux, Reiko Ishihara-Brito and Alexandre Tokovinine (EDS.) 2012 Ancient Maya Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks, Number 4. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 137, 236-237, pl. 36, fig. 71, 136.

Acquisition History
Acquired by Robert Woods Bliss ca. 1962

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1962.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.