Breastplate in the shape of a bat-man

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta - Tairona Period900/1600

Museo del Oro, Bogotá

Museo del Oro, Bogotá
Bogota, Colombia

This character frequently seen in Tairona goldwork is definitely the representation of a chieftain or a priest. His imposing aspect could even inspire fear. The Tairona were governed by a powerful elite of shamans, and maybe the most important one was known as the bat-man because of his virtues, talents, knowledge and wisdom. Cast in tumbaga and then superficially enriched in gold, this chest plate represents a character dressed with a very ornate headdress made of feathers majestically represented in filigree geometric designs, parallel threads and side plates as bird heads. On its head it also has two birds with pronounced beaks. Feathers and birds seem to be disposed on a hair band with a visor providing a little shade to the eyes and with two small mushroom shaped prolongations. The septum is deformed to allow for a double cylinder nose adornment and the chin has a protuberance, an ornament under the lip like the ones made by the Tairona in stone or metal. These facial ornaments change the appearance and personality of the man thus converting him into a bat-man. The “mushrooms” on the head band would simulate the bat’s ears tragus, and the deformed nose and chin would also be related to the physical traits of some species of Chiroptera. These irreversible deformations would prove the definite and eternal devotion of a person as the community’s spiritual leader before all the other members of the community.

The man is naked except for a knitted belt or band made of twisted threads in opposite directions finishing in spirals in both ends. As on other occasions the tips of the spirals are replaced by snake heads, they are possibly a schematic representation of the bifid tongues characterizing the snakes. For the indigenous communities currently living in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta the bats and the snakes are powerful symbols of the lower world, the feminine part of the cosmos. Definitely a character like the one depicted in this chest plate would be highly respected when he was present with his enormous headdress and the shining goldwork ornaments next to the temples in the high terraces of the Lost City or another city of the Tairona. JSS


  • Title: Breastplate in the shape of a bat-man
  • Creator: Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta - Tairona Period
  • Date: 900/1600
  • Physical Dimensions: w113 x h106 mm
  • Type: Goldwork
  • External Link: Cosmology and Symbolism room
  • Technique: Lost wax casting in tumbaga
  • Finding: Colombia, Magdalena, Ciénaga
  • Accession number: O16300

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