Pre-Columbian, Central America, Costa Rica, ca. 200 to 800 CE. An absolutely gorgeous and still wearable janus-headed jadeite bead depicting a jaguar/serpent, drilled at the snouts/mouths of each wild feline, with a long serpent-like body joining the pair of visages. The jade itself presents gorgeous pale blue-green hues with white inclusions. The details of each visage - those bulging eyes, rounded ears, wide mouths, and forked tongues or fangs - were skillfully delineated via string-cut techniques. A wondrous example! Size: 7.25" L (18.4 cm)
More about the iconography: The jaguar symbolized power and might throughout the Pre-Columbian world. Warriors, rulers, hunters, and shamans alike associated themselves with this king of beasts, the largest and most powerful feline in the New World. A nocturnal animal, the jaguar sleeps in caves and dark places and creeps quietly in the forest, evoking great mystery. Snake/serpents provide a fascinating element of Pre-Columbian iconography as well as they were regarded to be a beneficial source of nourishment and at the same time quite deadly with their poisonous venom. Also important to the indigenous was the fact that snakes shed their skin annually thus rejuvenating themselves and serving as symbols of renewal and good health. The existence of two heads on this piece may suggest the bicephalic serpent which was a signifier of high rank in various Pre-Columbian world views. These two-headed beasts were regarded as sky bands that arched over the earth or surrounded the seas serving as a passageway for the planets and stars of the celestial realm. This motif decorated articles associated with individuals of high rank, thus associating them with the powers of this mighty creature.
The value of jade for people in ancient Central America lay in its symbolic power: perhaps its color was associated with water and vegetation; later, the Maya would place jade beads in the mouths of the dead. Many scholars have argued that the demand for jadeite contributed to the rise of long distance trading networks and to the rise of urban centers in ancient Mesoamerica. Jade would have come to Costa Rica in the form of axe-blades (celts) that would then be worked by local artisans into various forms, including beads like this one. The exoticism of stone that had traveled so far probably contributed to the value of these objects in ancient Costa Rica. By 800 CE, gold had replaced jade as the luxurious material de rigueur; however, during its day, this piece and other jadeworks of such high quality were most coveted.
Provenance: private Los Angeles County, California, USA collection
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