Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Jade in Costa Rica

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Costa Rica, a tropical country of environmental and biological diversity, is located between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south in lower Central America. With Mesoamerica, Costa Rica is one of the two regions in which jade was extensively carved in Precolumbian times. The earliest evidence for worked jade, a pendant excavated in a burial on the Nicoya Peninsula, is dated to the mid-first millennium B.C., and jade continued to be carved into similar personal ornaments until approximately 700 A.D., when its use appears to have died out and/or been replaced by a fashion for ornaments of gold. The early pendant was made in the shape of a celt, or ax, with a top worked into a bird head and torso. Circular eyes and a wide downturned beak define the head above folded wings, in a basic version of what would be the classic Costa Rican bird pendant in jade. The bird-celt pendant would undergo many elaborations during subsequent centuries, all the while retaining these essential features.


With Mesoamerica, Costa Rica is one of the two regions in which jade was extensively carved in Precolumbian times.




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Cited Works of Art or Images (2)

  • Bird-Celt Pendant; discovered in Bundle Burial 4, La Regla  site, Gulf of Nicoya
  • Three Figure-Celt Pendants; from burial 11; Monte Sele site, Guanacastle Province

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Department of Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bird-Celt Pendant, 5th–2nd century B.C.
Costa Rica; Nicoya
Jade (jadeite); H. 5 3/8 in. (13.6 cm)
Museo Nacional de Costa Rica, San José (P-30-rg, Ent. 4, Art. 1)
http://www.MUSEOCOSTARICA.com

Pierced for suspension, this celt-form pendant has a bird-head top, the earliest such depiction known. The bird-celt pendant form was used for many centuries in Costa Rica.

Three Figure-Celt Pendants, 1st–5th century
Costa Rica; Guanacaste
Jade (jadeite); H. 3 5/8 to 4 5/8 in. (9.2 to 11.9 cm)
Museo Nacional de Costa Rica, San José (G-91-MS-6[4], Art. 101-103)
http://www.MUSEOCOSTARICA.com

Excavated by archaeologists from Burial 11 at Monte Sele in Guanacaste Province in 1991, these three pendants had all been worn by the same person in death.


Southern Greater Nicoya. Atlantic Watershed.