Skip to Content

Celt Pendant

Guanacaste-Nicoya, Period IV
500 BCE-500 CE
16.51 x 5.5 x 1.81 cm (6 1/2 x 2 3/16 x 11/16 in.)

On view


Forest clearing and wood splitting, essential activities for agricultural life in the tropical forest, required the use of cutting tools like axes. These implements, also called celts, correspond to a universal form derived from their function. Prior to the invention of metal, these petaloid-shaped tools, with convex body and one wide sharp edge were used in different places around the world and made out of different kind of stone. However, people from some cultures in the Intermediate Area, like the Guanascate- Nicoya in Costa Rica, made celts out of precious stone materials to be used as objects of prestige.

Like this object, most Costa Rican celts were produced to be used as pendants. This usage can be deduced from the holes that have been pierced on the upper tier of the object, suitable to introduce a cord or string to allow suspension. Contrary to most celt-like pendants which have one transversal perforation, this specimen has one short hole on each side which turns ninety degrees to the back of the object. The back of the pendant is not convex but flat, so even though it gives the appearance of being complete, this is only a half celt. This is a common trait on this kind of object in Costa Rican jade-work that saves valuable material without compromising the final look of the product. The careful carving was complemented with a meticulous and extensive process of grinding and polishing to give a smooth shiny finish to the overall surface.

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. 37, cat. 197.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1947 Indigenous Art of the Americas: Collection of Robert Woods Bliss. National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian institution, Washington, D.C., p. 9, 65, cat. 1.

Exhibition History
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, April 1947 to July 1949, November 1952 to July 1962.

Acquisition History
Formerly in the collection of Felix Wiss, San Jose, Costa Rica.

Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, December 18,1943

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1943-1962.

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

Guanacaste-Nicoya | Pendant