Breastplate in the form of a bird-man

Upper Cauca Region - Late Period900/1600

Museo del Oro, Bogotá

Museo del Oro, Bogotá
Bogota, Colombia

This chest plate, one of the most exceptional pieces of Colombian pre-Hispanic goldwork, in iconography, technique and size, depicts the figure of an imposing bird-man with a hooked beak and a large bifurcated headdress and a tail that seems to replicate the shape of the headdress. It is ornamented with attachments tied to arms and legs, and a necklace having various threads. The large character is surrounded by four smaller figures: two of them resting on his arms look like a quadruped with bird heads, while the other four represent small bird-men who are similar to the character. The iconography of this figure suggests ideas related to the shamanic transformation into a bird and its auxiliaries. In diverse cultures of the American continent, the shaman becomes a bird by taking entheogens and by using feathered ornaments, and during his ecstatic flight, with the help of his assistants, he travels to the outer world to talk to the spirits in order to get their help to cure diseases, learn about the future and find animals to hunt.

The piece belongs to the Cauca goldgoldwork distributed in a small area near Popayán in the South Western part of Colombia. Most of the objects represent man-bird-frog combinations, a clear reference to the idea of transformation. The pieces of this style are scarce, and there is very little information about them. Based on similarities with other goldworks, it seems like it was manufactured after 1000 A.D. MAU


  • Title: Breastplate in the form of a bird-man
  • Creator: Upper Cauca Region - Late Period
  • Date: 900/1600
  • Physical Dimensions: w240 x h158 mm
  • Type: Goldwork
  • External Link: The Offering room
  • Technique: Lost wax casting in tumbaga with depletion gilding
  • Finding: Colombia, Cauca, Puracé
  • Accession number: O07355

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