Pendant bell: turtle eating serpents

800–1200 CE
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General Description

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 sixteenth century. The image on this gold pendant is flattened and bilaterally symmetrical for maximum decorative effect. Although not visible from the front, a suspension loop is located on the reverse at the base of the head—craftsmen thus cleverly adapted the natural forms of totemic creatures to the functional demands of this jewelry.

Frogs, alligators, and other aquatic creatures were likely mythic figures, as in South America. For many peoples of the ancient Americas, turtles, like other amphibians, were also symbols of fertility and life, associated both with the underworld from which they emerge and water in which they live. A bi-cephalic serpent encircles this turtle, terminating at the mouth, and the tiny blobs of gold may be water symbols. Turtles were likely intercessors between water and land, and when represented in gold, such as this example, they are even more powerful.

Adapted from

  • 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.

  • Anne R. Bromberg, Dallas Museum of Art: Selected Works (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1983), 45.

  • Carol Robbins, Label text [1976.W.298; 1976.W.297; 1976.W.292], A. H. Meadows Galleries.

Fun Facts

This pendant is made of cast tumbaga, and originally had an integrally cast, hollow clapper bell.