Nose Ornament with Intertwined Serpents

Date: 390–450

Geography: Peru

Culture: Moche (Loma Negra)

Medium: Gold, silver, shell

Dimensions: H. 4 15/16 x W. 8 5/16 x D. 7/16 in. (12.5 x 21.1 x 1.1 cm)

Classification: Metal-Ornaments

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979

Accession Number: 1979.206.1225


Nose ornaments made of precious metals were worn by the elite in Peru beginning in the middle of the first millennium B.C.; they remained in fashion for over a thousand years, until about 700 A.D. Among the Moche people of the north coast, they were an essential part of royal costume. This handsome crescent is made of silver and came from the site of Loma Negra in the Piura Valley. It is so big it would have covered the wearer's lower face when suspended from the nasal septum. It has a gold border of intertwined "eared" serpents, their profile faces with toothy mouths and split tongues appearing at the top on either side of the ornament. Attached to the serpent bodies with small pieces of gold wire are numerous gold disks, which would have moved and glittered with the slightest movement of the wearer. The "eared" serpent was a mythological creature often depicted in ancient Peruvian art with feline characteristics such as whiskers and fangs.

Moche metalworkers often combined two metals on fancy ornaments. In addition to the aesthetic appeal, joining gold and silver may have had symbolic meaning, perhaps expressing ideas of duality and complementarity.