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Gold pectoral
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Gold held a profound symbolic significance in American Indian beliefs. The precious metal was particularly prized for its durability and association with the sun in South America before the Spanish Conquest. Long before European contact, Native American goldsmiths had developed great skill in making gold objects, using techniques such as hammering, casting and gilding.

This hammered and embossed chest ornament is an example of such jewellery. Its shape echoes the spread wings of a powerful bird of prey such as the eagle, associated in American Indian religion with the masculine, generative powers of the sun. The closed eyes of the human face in the centre of the pectoral suggest that it represents a shaman or priest in a meditative trance. His thoughts are not directed outwards towards the physical world but inwards, to the spirit realm.

Gold pectoral

From Calima, Colombia.
AD 100-1500.
W. 36 cm.

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