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Tubular Bead With Spiral Grooves

1200-1520 CE
12.7 cm x 1.59 cm (5 in. x 5/8 in.)

Not on view


PC.B.136 is a spirally grooved tube, collared at both ends, with two flattened sides. On one of the collars, wider than the other, each nonflattened side of the tube has a pair of circles, shallow perforations made with a thin tubular hollow drill bit. The object’s other collared end has crosshatch markings. These features and the twisting bands that run lengthwise along the exterior surface of the tube clearly indicate that the object has the shape of two entwined serpents whose heads appear opposite to each other on one end and whose scaled bellies are exposed on the other end.
The cylinder was bored from both ends using drill bits of different size. The ample bore traversing the tube was evidently not meant to provide a means of suspending the object as a pendant but to allow sufficient room for hafting. Thus the object was the handle for a composite object, most likely a feathered fan.

In addition to the main bore, the end with the heads of the entwined serpents has two perforations, 3.1 mm in diameter, below the rim. A groove runs from each hole to the border of the object, marking the division of the ophidian heads, but possibly with an additional function, such as guides for thin cords that, with the aid of the transversal perforations, fastened a hafting ring inside that end of the handle. Alternatively, transversal holes and lateral grooves between the serpent heads could have guided a cord that allowed suspending the handle from the wrist.
There are no traces of wear that would have been caused by inserting a hafting ring into either end of the cylinder, but perhaps the added piece was made of wood or bone. Despite its different function, the manufacturing procedure of pc.b.136 must have been the same as that for the spirally grooved bead pc.b.135. One of the flattened sides of the tube has coarse areas with a distinct brownish coloration, suggesting that before its discovery the object rested on this flat end. Today both borders of the object are slightly chipped.

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. 25, cat. 119.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1947 Indigenous Art of the Americas: Collection of Robert Woods Bliss. National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., p. 14, 79, cat. 52.

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. 247, cat. 92, pl. LVIII.

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. 255, cat. 92, pl. LVIII.

Solís Olguín, Felipe R. 2004 The Aztec Empire: Catalogue of the Exhibition. Guggenheim Museum Publications, New York. p. 43, cat. 184.

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

"The Aztec Empire", Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, 10/14/2004 - 2/13/2005; Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain 3/15/ - 9/4/2005.

"The Aztec World", Field Museum, Chicago IL, 10/26/2008 - 4/19/2009.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1942.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1942-1962.

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