Breastplate with anthropomorphous figure

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta - Tairona Period900/1600

Museo del Oro, Bogotá

Museo del Oro, Bogotá
Bogota, Colombia

On the bone of a skull, a shoulder blade or a pelvis of a large mammal, an ancient artist carved a scene of a mythical creature or a cultural hero. These scenes were commonly designed by the goldsmiths in the Nahuange period in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, on hammered tumbaga sheets. This is the only piece known that was carved in bone.

The basic pattern of this iconographic motif is a central character, very richly dressed and ornamented, accompanied by smaller and very schematic human, animal, or composite creatures. The set is normally supplemented by additional iconographic elements, like different size circles and horizontal bars shaped as a snake with two opposite heads. Here we can see the character sitting down with its legs open, wearing a belt and a loin cloth with squares. His power is represented by a chest plate depicting a bird with wings spread out, accompanied by two prey birds, one on either side. The piece has two interesting details; a bag or woven pouch under the right arm of the character and the headdress shaped like a two headed snake.

The border, which in the tumbaga chest plates is decorated with a continuous dotted line, was outlined in this case with small triangles in zigzag, a design that some researchers would relate to the snake’s mouth. JSS


  • Title: Breastplate with anthropomorphous figure
  • Creator: Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta - Tairona Period
  • Creator Lifespan: 900/1600
  • Creator Nationality: Colombia
  • Creator Death Place: Colombia
  • Creator Birth Place: Colombia
  • Date: 900/1600
  • Physical Dimensions: w114 x h101 mm
  • Type: Bone carving
  • External Link: People and Gold in Pre-Hispanic Colombia
  • Technique: Carved on bone
  • Finding: Colombia, Magdalena
  • Accession number: H00141

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