On the second day of our staying in San Jose (11th June), we had a chance to visit the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum (Museo del Oro) – the archaeological museum organized by the Central Bank of Costa Rica in 1950. This Museum hosts temporary exhibitions on a variety of themes and also houses a remarkable permanent gallery of pre-Columbian gold objects crafted between 300 A.D. and the 16th century, the time of the first contact with Europeans.
Objects manufactured during this period present a mixture of styles generated by contact and exchange with neighbouring regions such as modern central Panama and modern Colombia. Objects exhibited in the Museum were used as trade goods between regions and as ritual ornaments and funerary offerings. Many figures depict men with animal masks, apparently pointing to some superhuman qualities of those leaders who wore them. There are many animal figurines, including those of frogs, which are especially numerous, jaguar, alligators, bat, and others. Of the arthropods, only figurines of butterflies, crustaceans and spiders were displayed.
Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, San Jose, Costa Rica
In traditional stories of the indigenous people of Talamanca, the butterfly is a woman who serves as an intermediary between the natural and supernatural worlds. This role of messenger and special being is reflected in the criteria used to select the woman who can be trained to carry out ritual tasks. They must have positive traits such as honesty, bravery and dedication.
Butterfly-shaped pendants, with the body representing alligators – the common practice of combining animals within a single object.
During the pre-Colombian period the marine environment was intensely exploited for edible species such as shrimps, crabs, lobsters and fish. Figurines of all these animals were manufactured as shown below.
Lobster-shaped pendants and circular pectoral (in the centre). The pectoral was a symbol of high rank among pre-Columbian people.
I could not photograph the autentic gold spider-shaped pendant in the Museum, and here is a photo of nice replica manufactured by a contemporary artists from the open-air market near the National Museum of San Jose.
Replica of the spider-shaped bell, with a hanging smaller bell.
The explanatory text provided above is based on the captions displayed in the Museo del Oro and the book by P. Esquivel (2012) ‘Extraordinary pieces from the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum’
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