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Olmec, Middle Preclassic
900 BCE - 300 BCE
22.54 cm x 10.8 cm x 4.13 cm (8 7/8 in. x 4 1/4 in. x 1 5/8 in.)

Not on view


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One of the hallmarks of the Middle Formative Olmec are polished, petaloid greenstone celts fashioned of serpentine and jade. This jadeite example is of a particularly massive and impressive size, weighing al-most 1.7 kilograms. Except for its especially high polish, this precious celt was made in essentially the same manner as everyday Olmec celts fashioned from basalt and other stones. The jadeite of this celt was first roughly fashioned by bifacial flaking. Some of the marks from these powerful blows can still be discerned on the rounded edges and bladed bit end. The stone was then shaped and smoothed by pecking, a considerable amount of which can still be discerned as small surface dings. The final and probably most time-consuming step was the grinding and polishing, which created the smooth and gleaming surface visible to this day.

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. 38.

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. 126-9, pl. 21.

Exhibition History
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, January 1956 to April 1962.

Acquisition History
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.

Olmecs | Ritual