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General Description

The pre-Hispanic goldwork of Colombia is traditionally classified by archaeological zones, or regions, each with stylistic associations, varying in iconography and technology: Muisca in the central highlands southeast of Bogotá; Zenú (Sinú) and Tairona in northwestern Colombia; and in the southwest, Quimbaya, Calima, Tolima, and Nariño. The richly varied works were primarily objects of personal adornment. Pendants, headdress elements, pectorals, bracelets, anklets, and nose and ear ornaments probably functioned as ceremonial regalia for elite men. In contrast, however, Muisca gold objects consist primarily of votive offerings. Muisca gold objects were usually comprised of a concentrated copper-gold alloy, known as tumbaga, and created by lost-wax casting. Objects often had multiple parts, and the surface was often left unpolished. Since the Muisca region lacked a source of gold, they traded other precious materials to acquire the metal.

Muisca votive offerings (tunjos) depict a wide range of human and animal figures. Reptiles or snakes are a common theme among the cultures of Intermediate Central America, especially among Muisca votive objects. Many of the snakes feature whiskers on their heads, as prominent as this example. This reptile displays a partially open mouth with exposed tongue and is flattened and undecorated on the reverse as is common among these types of offerings. For many peoples of the ancient Americas, reptiles and snakes were likely mythic figures. A common belief was that mythical ancestors in the form of snakes lived among lakes and required offerings. Many gold objects and other offerings have been found in Lake Guatavita, located in the Muisca region north of the present capital of Colombia, Santa Fe de Bogotá.

Drawn from

  • Bonnie Pitman, ed., "Ceremonial mask (1976.W.321)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 33.

  • Bonnie Pitman, ed., "Headdress ornament with heads flanked by crested crocodiles (1976.W.319)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 34.

  • Carol Robbins, "Ceremonial mask (1976.W.321)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Suzanne Kotz (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1997), 178.

  • "Three Serpents (Tunjos) (1979.206.740, 1992.92.1-2)." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.,1992.92.1,2/. (August 2009).