This bead or pendant is carved on one side; the other three sides are rounded and polished. It has a large perforation along its longer axis and a smaller lateral perforation in the middle. This combination of a flat, carved surface typical of an ornament or adorno (which tend to be thin and have many frontal perforations) with a rounded bead body is rather uncommon.
The work shows a finned creature with a pointed nose and large triangular teeth. There can be little doubt that this is a representation of a shark, or xook as the Classic Maya called it. The style of carving is typical of the Early Classic period, as later shark representations tend to look more snakelike. It is unlikely that the Dumbarton Oaks shark pendant was a centerpiece of a royal crown because the work depicts the shark in profile and yet it is carved on just one side, suggesting that the back of the ornament was not meant to be seen. Carved images on the stone panel and stucco frieze from Temple XIX at Palenque show figures wearing headbands with frontally and laterally positioned adornments. A likelier function of this piece would be as part of an earflare assemblage or a composite chest pendant. The orientation of the piece would depend on its use: headband jewels and earflare ornaments would be suspended vertically, while the chest pendant adornments would be oriented horizontally.
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-L, pl. LXVII.
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-L, pl. LXVII.
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. 208-211, pl. 26, fig. 118, 119a.
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, August 1956 to July 1962.
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.