The act of bloodletting played a central role in the rituals of many ancient Mesoamerican cultures. In a typical bloodletting ritual, rulers or ritual specialists cut or pierced their ears, cheeks, tongues, or genitals. In representations of these rituals, the drops of blood are collected on papers in a basket, presumably to be burned later as an offering or communion with the gods. Although our most abundant evidence for bloodletting comes from the later Maya and Aztec cultures, this practice can be traced back in time to the Pre- Classic period and, in the case of this object, to the Olmec culture.
Stingray spines, cactus thorns, and stone lancets were some of the typical tools used for bloodletting, but a few bloodletters of extremely fine materials are also known. Greenstone was one of the most highly valued materials in ancient Mesoamerica, prized for its color and hardness. Extremely difficult to work, the craftsmanship of these small jadeite pieces becomes all the more impressive when one realizes that they were fashioned without the use of metal tools. Made out of a translucent, light-blue piece of jadeite, this perforator represents a hummingbird. The feathers, wings, and tail of the bird are incised on the elongated cylindrical handle. The base of the bloodletter is flat, which allows the object to remain stationary. The eyes are more deeply carved in comparison with the shallow incisions of the body. The point of the perforator is rendered as the elongated beak of the hummingbird.
Baudez, Claude-Francois 2012 La Douleur Redemptrice: L'autosacrifice Precolombien. Riveneuve, Paris. p. 34-35, fig. Intro 5.
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. 8, cat. 35.
Benson, Elizabeth P. and Beatriz de la Fuente (EDS.) 1996 Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., p. 260, cat. 106.
Bliss, Robert W. 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. 233, cat. 6, pl. I.
Bliss, Robert W. 1959 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. 2nd ed. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, London. p. 241, cat. 6, pl. 1.
Bühl, Gudrun (ED.) 2008 Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 236-7.
Coe, Michael D. 1965 The Olmec Style and Its Distributions. In Handbook of Middle American Indians; V. 2-3: Archaeology of Southern Mesoamerica, Gordon Randolph Willey, ed. University of Texas Press, Austin. p. 754, fig. 32.
Diehl, Richard A. 2004 The Olmecs: America's First Civilization. Ancient Peoples and Places; Vol. 112. Thames & Hudson, London. p. 124, fig. 84.
González Calderón, O. L. 1991 The Jade Lords. O.L. González Calderón, Coatzacoalcos, Ver., pl. 470.
Nicholson, Irene 1967 Mexican and Central American Mythology. Hamlyn, London. p. 135.
Taube, Karl A. 2004 Olmec Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks; No. 2. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 125-126, pl. 20.
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, January 1956 to July 1962.
"Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 6/30 - 10/20/1996.
"75 Years/75 Objects", Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC, 09/08/2015 - 05/22/2016.
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1954.
Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1954-1962.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.