Pectoral ornament, late 19th–early 20th century
Central Asia or Iran, Tekke tribe
Silver, gilded, engraved, and inset with carnelians; 4 3/4 x 4 in. (12.1 x 10.2 cm)
Gift of Marshall and Marilyn R. Wolf, 2008 (2008.579.3)
Turkman jewelry is worn because of its protective powers, and its design is not merely guided by aesthetic preference but has specific references in a set of beliefs that predate the conversion of the Turkman tribes to Islam. This ornament is attributed to the Tekke tribe that once inhabited the Achal oasis in the southern part of present-day Turkmenistan, close to the northern border of Iran. While much of the jewelry made by the Turkman tribes combines silver, gilded silver, and carnelians, Tekke pieces are instantly recognizable from the gilded scrolling patterns covering much of their surface and the openwork scrolls used on many, but not all, pieces. The pair of confronted birds that form the main motif of this object is unusual, however. Although birds are commonly used in the jewelry of other Islamic cultures, a parallel for this piece in Tekke jewelry is nearly impossible to find. The form is also unusual. While the piece is similar to a headdress element, its overall size and proportion of height to width suggest that this was a pectoral ornament, probably worn strung together with several other ornaments that covered most of the chest.