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Olmec, Middle Preclassic
900 BCE - 300 BCE
8 cm x 7.5 cm x 1.1 cm (3 1/8 in. x 2 15/16 in. x 7/16 in.)

On view


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Fashioned from mottled, light blue-green jade, this plaque is rectangular, with well-rounded corners. A pair of biconically drilled holes pierces the back upper edge of the piece, concealing suspension holes that are not visible from the front. The back side of the plaque is slightly convex, and bears two curving grooves running parallel to one of the vertical sides, probably aborted cuts made during the original blocking out and shaping of the piece. The front side has a gently concave and highly polished surface. In a detailed study of this object, John Carlson (1993) suggests that it represents an effigy copy of an iron ore Olmec mirror. He notes that the dimensions of the concave surface are virtually identical to those known for Olmec mirrors. Although Carlson interprets this item as a "non-functional" copy of an iron ore mirror, it is quite possible that as with the metallic ore examples, this pectoral could have also been used in divinatory scrying. In such divination, the play of light is at least as important as the quality of the reflection. Although rare, other examples of Olmec jade mirrors do exist. The use of mirrors in divination is widely documented in Mesoamerica, and such mirrors often seem to have served as powerful emblems of high office.

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. 9, cat. 40.

Carlson, John B. 1987 The Jade Mirror: An Olmec Concave Jadeite Pendant, A paper presented at a session entitled The Jade Connection, Denver, CO, 19-14 August

Carlson, John B. 1993 The Jade Mirror: An Olmec Concave Jadeite Pendant. In Precolumbian Jade: New Geological and Cultural Interpretations, Frederick W. Lange, ed., pp. 242-250. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City. fig. 18.1.

González Calderón, O. L. 1991 The Jade Lords. O.L. González Calderón, Coatzacoalcos, Ver., pl. 483.

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. 141-5, pl. 28.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Frances Pratt, by Mrs. Mildred Bliss, 1963.

Gift to Dumbarton Oaks by Mrs. Mildred Bliss, 1963.

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

Mirrors | Olmecs | Pendant