Objects have curious ways of travel through space and time before ending up in museums and private collections. This particular pendant came to Dumbarton Oaks in two pieces, several years apart. Broken across the shoulders, the bust of the figure came first, followed later by the lower part of the body including the right arm, the torso, and both legs.
A tour de force of Olmec lapidary work, this pendant is sculpted out of a single piece of serpentine with metallic inclusions. It depicts a male reclining on his left side, with his left arm placed against his sharply upturned head. The position of both arms and legs and the presence of hollowed spaces in between them suggest that it was meant to be worn horizontally, suspended from some sort of string or cord.
Attention to detail is apparent. Fine incised lines delineate the fingers, toes, and buttocks, and even finer lines are used to indicate details of the ears and the loincloth worn by the personage. Deeper carving is seen in the rendering of the mouth, nostrils, and eyes. The sharply down-turned mouth, characteristic of Middle Formative Olmec art, may be related to a jaguar maw and suggest a supernatural state of being. The perforations in the earlobes would have allowed for the suspension of ornaments.
Other reclining figures are known from the Olmec culture, but it is difficult to state with precision what such a posture might imply. Some scholars have suggested that these figures are flying or floating, and they represent the trance shamans experience after consuming hallucinogens. The jaguar maw may indicate the figure was in the throes of a supernatural trance.
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