Pendant depicting a figure with bat like mask
- 700–1550 CE
Among the societies of Central America, gold ornaments were important symbols of power and prestige that expressed authority and status in life and in death. Made to be suspended around the neck, gold pendants were still worn by local inhabitants of the Caribbean coast when Europeans encountered them at the turn of the 16th century. The Diquís archaeological zone on Costa Rica's southern Pacific coast became a major gold-working area after the technology diffused northward from the Northern Andes, probably about 300 to 500 CE. Goldsmiths of this region favored depiction of birds and animals of a dangerous or predatory nature, and craftsmen cleverly adapted the natural forms of totemic creatures to the functional demands of jewelry. Diquís art styles, both gold and ceramic, have much in common with those of the adjacent Chiriquí region of northwestern Panama—archaeologists often treat them together as the Greater Chiriquí subarea.
This pendant represents a characteristic Diquís type that features a central male figure standing between two flat, essentially horizontal, bars that frame the composition. The columnar torso, the narrow bands or cords that encircle the waist and knees, and the projecting flat feet are elements common to most examples, while the type of mask worn by the figure, the object held in the mouth of the mask, and whether the figure has arms or winglike forms vary. On this pendant, the curled nose and prominent ears suggest a bat mask, which holds a tiny trophy head, a reference to the importance of human sacrifice. Crescent wings extend from the torso. The configuration of concentric spirals and diagonal lines flanking the head and feet (above and below the wings) is thought to represent a crocodile head. The central figure may depict a shaman or a warrior-chief, both intermediaries between earthly and cosmic realms. Pendants of this type probably functioned as emblems of rank or status or as amulets.
Bonnie Pitman, ed., "Pendant with two frogs (1976.W.292), Pendant bell depicting a turtle (1976.W.301), Pendant depicting a batlike mask (1976.W.237)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 35.
Carol Robbins, "Pendant depicting a figure with batlike mask (1976.W.237)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Suzanne Kotz (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1997), 181.