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Effigy Spear-Thrower

Olmec, Middle Preclassic
900 BCE - 300 BCE
54.61 cm x 4.13 cm x 1.91 cm (21 1/2 in. x 1 5/8 in. x 3/4 in.)
Chloromycenite schist

On view


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Instead of jadeite, this object is carved from a softer and more brittle stone closely resembling serpentine. The complete spear-thrower was fashioned from at least three joined pieces of separately carved stone, of which only the two ends remain. Remnants of red staining - probably cinnabar - occur in the recessed regions of the hook and finger loops. Nonetheless, the distal end of this atl-atl effigy is similar to a jadeite atl-atl in the collection (PC.B.032), and has the flattened recessed area below the hooked portion and, in addition, the slightly constricted neck behind the hook. Moreover, whereas the tips of both handles are slightly rounded, the distal hook ends are both flattened. The handle of this atl-atl is supplied with the two finger loops commonly found on Classic and Postclassic spear-throwers. Whereas the finger loops of utilitarian Mesoamerican spear-throwers tend to be of cut shell bound to the shaft, the loops, handle, and lower shaft of this effigy are carved from a single piece of stone. Nonetheless, the edge of the handle and the beginning of the shaft are clearly demarcated by a carved indentation. This may well allude to lashing that would bind the rings and handle of the spear-thrower. The upper portion of the shaft and hooked tip were fashioned from a separate piece of stone. Although the lower end of the upper shaft is somewhat damaged, the joining area of the lower shaft and handle is in good condition. Here, it can be seen that the two portions had carefully cut, overlapping ends originally joined by two pins, a technique more typical of woodworking than stone. Due to its small size and fragility, it is likely that as in the case of spear-thrower PC.B.032, this atl-atl is an effigy copy rather than a functional weapon.

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. 36.

Bliss, Robert Woods 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. 235, cat. 17b, pl. IX.

González Calderón, O. L. 1991 The Jade Lords. O.L. González Calderón, Coatzacoalcos, Ver., pl. 471.

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. 138-9, pl. 26.

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

Acquisition History
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, October 25, 1955.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1955-1962.

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

Olmecs | Ritual