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Tubular Bead

Olmec, Middle Preclassic
900 BCE - 300 BCE
14.29 cm x 2.22 cm (5 5/8 in. x 7/8 in.)

Not on view


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Due to their simple form, tubular jade beads often are difficult to source and date. Nonetheless, this large bead can be reasonably attributed to the Middle Preclassic Olmec. It is carved from high quality, semi-translucent jadeite and exhibit considerable amounts of cinnabar staining, qualities that are relatively common to Olmec jades. Similar in size and general form, this object and bead PC.B.026, were purchased from Earl Stendahl in 1949, and it is possible that they derive from the same archaeological source.

The bead’s body is encircled with three broad bands in its middle. Suggestive of lashing, these bands appear to constrict the center of the piece, with the bead flaring out slightly from the banded center. The full, rounded, and sculptural appearance of the Dumbarton Oaks example belies the fact that only the ends are fully cylindrical. Two opposing planar surfaces run along most of the length, as if the bead was carved from a thick slab of cut jade. A hole drilled through the middle of the central band connects to the biconically drilled hole passing through the length of the bead. This smaller hole reveals that this item was part of a larger pendant assemblage, with one or more items hanging from the middle of the bead. Whereas one end of the bead is opaque and marble-like, the other end has dark veins that are an intense, translucent green color under strong light.

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. 31, cat. 155.

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. 19, pl. X.

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. 173-4, pl. 37.

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

Acquisition History
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1949.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1949-1962.

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

Related Objects

Bead | Olmecs