Double pendant bell: tooth-shaped figures

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

This pendant represents two composite figures with both human and feline-like features. Framed by a crescent-shaped canopy, the figures wear banded headdress and beaded necklaces or collars, while their bodies form the long, slender tooth-shaped base of the pendant. Each figure holds a round, gourd-shaped object in the outer hand which functions as a bell, and together they hold a triangular shaped object with facial features, that likely represents a trophy head, a reference to the importance of human sacrifice.

The meaning of these tooth-shaped figural pendants is unclear. Pendants in the shape of felines and other animal creatures are a common theme among the cultures of Intermediate Central America. They range in a variety of sizes and styles, and sometimes represent a fusion of various animal features and species. Though their exact meaning is unknown, pendants were likely worn on ceremonial occasions, and similar pendants were still being worn at the beginning of the 16th century conquest. For many peoples of the ancient Americas, animals were likely considered mythic figures. Animal pendants may have thus offered protection to the wearer, and when represented in gold, such as this example, they are even more powerful.

Drawn 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.

  • "Eagle Pendant (1977.187.22)." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (August 2009).

Fun Facts

This hollow pendant is made of cast gold with two cast metal clapper bells.