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Small Ornaments in the Shape of Ear Flares and Disks

Maya, Classic, general
200-900 CE

Not on view


Commonly referred to as miniature or small earflares in the archaeological literature, most of this lot of sixty-six small jadeite objects conform to the shape of earflares, complete with a pair of tiny (less than one millimeter in diameter) lateral, conical holes in the neck. Of the fifty-one objects that can be classified as bearing the shape of an earflare, five are very carefully crafted with a thin, trumpetlike flare with a circular or ovoid outline. The other forty-six vary in craftsmanship and overall shape, with a shorter, less well-defined neck. Seven have a discernible groove at the base of the neck on the back side, a cut mark resulting from defining the neck. The remaining fifteen objects that do not resemble an earflare are either flat or rounded on the back side.

The frontal outline of the objects varies widely in shape, the most common being ovoid (n=20). Quadrangular shapes (n=12), including rectangular, trapezoidal, and rhombus, and irregular shapes (n=13) occur fairly frequently in the lot. Other forms include triangular (n=9), circular (n=6), pentagonal (n=4), and floral (n=2). Two pentagonal specimens are incised with four lines radiating out from the central perforation, resembling the /K’IN/ (“sun, day”) glyph. Two others are carved along the edge of the object to create seven or eight petals, representing open blossoms. Another is rectangular in plan with a wide groove extending across the middle of the frontal surface, resulting in the profile of a wing nut.

Although it is not possible to say whether the sixty-six objects originated from a single context, two possible pairs can be discerned based on their form and the type of stone.

One pair is made of a fine-grained jadeite, mottled with spinach green and a lighter green, and shaped into the form of well-defined, delicately worked earflares with an ovoid outline. This earflare-shaped works may have composed a headband, strung together through the tiny lateral holes in the necks or sewn onto a backing.

The other pair is circular, has a cupcake-like profile, and may have served as the throat disks to fit into the central perforation of a pair of earflares, as only the frontal or top surface is polished. Alternatively, they may have functioned as components of composite objects. In general, these ornaments were clearly meant to be viewed only on one side: in almost all cases, one surface is more carefully smoothed and polished, and it often boasts more green color than the reverse.
Moreover, it is possible that the same objects were applied in different ways, depending on the occasion. The functions of works with similar forms may also have changed through time and were geographically distinct.

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. 14, cat. 68.

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. 251, cat. 116-C, pl. LXVI, bottom.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1959 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. 2nd ed. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, London. p. 259, cat. 116-C, pl. LXVI, bottom.

Pillsbury, Joanne, Miriam Doutriaux, Reiko Ishihara-Brito and Alexandre Tokovinine (EDS.) 2012 Ancient Maya Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks, Number 4. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 134-135, 261-265, pl. 46, fig. 151, 154.

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

Acquisition History
Purchased from Robert Stolper, New York (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1956.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1956-1962.

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

Bead | Mayas