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Art History

Ancient Costa Rican and Mexican Jades

jade bowdoin museum of artIn the spring of 2004, seven students in Art History 130:  Introduction to the Art of Ancient Mexico and Peru undertook original research into the Bowdoin College Museum of Arts collection of ancient Costa Rican and Mexican jades. 

Given by Mr. John B. Chandler '37 and Mrs. Chandler in the 1970s, the collection had not yet been studied in light of the newest ethnographic and archaeological research in the field.  The students, Ivy Blackmore '07, Colin Doyle '06, Francesca DuBrock '07, Andrew Morrison'06, Lili Mugnier '07, Graham Patterson '06, and Anthony Regis '07, each selected a stone artifact to examine.  They chose Costa Rican works: anthropomorphic axe god pendants, a bird-masked celt (axe) pendant, a jadeite bead with prone human figure, a bird pendant, and a long tubular bead that had been used as a base from which to suspend other ornaments; and one Mexican mask pendant.


jade bowdoin museum of artTheir research explored the imagery and symbolism of precious greenstones, such as jade and jadeite.  The deep green color and tool-like shape of the miniature axes linked them to agricultural activity.  Perhaps the combined human-bird effigies referred to agricultural or fertility deities who would be called upon to assure a successful harvest.  The bird mask was probably meant to evoke the harpy eagle, an impressive, yet reclusive raptor of the high forest canopy.  The pure avian pendant, in contrast, most likely reflects the compact shape of a kingfisher. With such high-status pendants, members of a family or community group could mark their shared identity by wearing the same symbolic form.