In contrast to the Andes and Mesoamerica—where complex state-level societies were characteristic in the Pre-Columbian period—in the lower part of Central America, also known as the Intermediate Area, chiefdoms of different sizes existed with different types of political hierarchies. In such societies, ornaments of various types were often used by chiefs and ritual specialists to display their power, wealth, and status. In the later part of the Pre-Hispanic period, in the area that is now Costa Rica and Panama, gold pendants were the favored display items.
Winged pendants, or avian pendants, were among the most popular forms of gold ornaments. Clusters of such pendants, found in a single burial, suggested that an individual may have worn several at a time. Early photographs from this area underscore this grouping of ornaments. In one example, a chief wears a necklace with several avian pendants suspended from a single cord, a magnificent display of a veritable flock of pendants on his chest.
This avian pendant shows a double-headed eagle with a bicephalic headdress and wings extended over a curved lower band, possibly a tail. The heads are obscured by two dangles in its beaks, and two additional dangles are clutched in its claws. The double-headed eagle was formed by creating an original in wax or a similar material, and surrounding it in a matrix. The original form is then burned out of the matrix and the molten metal poured in. The detailing on this piece includes the indication of feathers on the underside of the wings and the headdress. The headdress terminates in crocodile or saurian creatures in profile with conventionalized curled-up noses and ferocious teeth.
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. 42, cat. 227.
Bühl, Gudrun (ED.) 2008 Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections. Published by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 244-5.
Saunders, Nicholas J. 2003 "Catching the Light": Technologies of Power and Enchantment in Pre-Columbian Goldworking. In Gold and Power in Ancient Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia: A Symposium at Dumbarton Oaks, 9 and 10 October 1999, Jeffrey Quilter and John W. Hoopes, eds., pp. 15-47. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections, Washington, D.C., p. 32, fig. 7.
Von Winning, Hasso and Alfred Stendahl 1968 Pre-Columbian Art of Mexico and Central America. H.N. Abrams, New York. pl. 560.
Lothrop, S. K. 1963 Archaeology of the Diquís Delta, Costa Rica. Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University; V. 51. Peabody Museum, Cambridge, MA.
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, February 1958 to July 1962.
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, August 14, 1956.
Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1956-1962.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.