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Balance-Beam Scale

Chimú-Inka, Late Horizon
1470-1540 CE
32.39 cm x 35.24 cm (12 3/4 in. x 13 7/8 in.)
net and bone

Not on view


The beam of this scale was carved from the shaft of a long bone, probably from a large mammal. The design of the beam is bilaterally symmetrical, a clever device to reinforce visually the practical use of the apparatus. The four animals, which seem to be composites of bird and terrestrial creatures, were produced by excising sections of the bone beam, thereby creating a more stabile design that could have been achieved by carving them individually and adding them to the beam. The choice of this technique also may have been selected to insure that the beam’s function of balance was best maintained.

The net bags were fabricated of bast fibers that were Z-spun and S-plied. Even mesh spacing was accomplished with the use of a tool of 1.5 cm in diameter. Knotting was done with the overhand technique.

Benson, Elizabeth P. 1963 Handbook of the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 71, cat. 400.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1947 Indigenous Art of the Americas: Collection of Robert Woods Bliss. National Gallery of Art; Smithsonian institution, Washington, D.C., p. 31, 152, cat. 153.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1957 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, New York. p. 277, cat. 333, pl. CXXXVIII.

Boone, Elizabeth Hill (ED.) 1996 Andean Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks; No. 1. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C. vol. 1, p. 270-1, pl. 73.

Quilter, Jeffrey 2005 Treasures of the Andes: The Glories of Inca and Pre-Columbian South America. Duncan Baird, London.

Exhibition History
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, May 1948 to September 1960.

Acquisition History
Acquired by Robert Bliss before 1948.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1948-1962.

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