Pendant bell: turtle

800–1200 CE
2 1/2 × 2 1/8 × 1 in. (6.35 × 5.4 × 2.54 cm)
Arts of the Americas
Ancient Art of the Americas - A. H. Meadows Galleries, Level 4
Dallas Museum of Art, The Nora and John Wise Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jake L. Hamon, the Eugene McDermott Family, Mr. and Mrs. Algur H. Meadows and the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated, and Mr. and Mrs. John D. Murchison
Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

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 century. The image on this gold ornament is flattened and bilaterally symmetrical for maximum decorative effect. Though not visible from the front, a suspension loop is located on the reverse at the base of the neck—craftsmen thus cleverly adapted the natural forms of totemic creatures to the functional demands of 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. 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 with an integrally cast clapper bell of indeterminate gray stone, that is basically round in shape.