Shell (spondylus); H. 3 3/4 in. (8.6 cm)
Purchase, Rogers Fund and Gifts in honor of Carol R. Meyer, 1985 (1985.260)
Spondylus, the shell of a thorny oyster native to the warm coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean, is a vibrant red-orange color that caused it to become a highly valued material collected and traded in ancient Mesoamerica and beyond. Primarily used as a material for carving jewelry, its preciousness and value are confirmed by its repeated presence in the tombs of important individuals. This small sculpture, probably a pendant that hung on a necklace strung with spondylus beads, depicts a bare-chested male figure wearing a turban, earspools, armbands, and loincloth. Despite the challenge of working in a material with very limited depth, the carver of this object skillfully created the illusion of volume in the face and, to a certain extent, within the body of the figure.