- 900–500 BCE
The carved stone images Olmec kings wore on their foreheads and chests projected supernatural power. This carved jadeite pendant in the shape of a human head would have originally been suspended from a necklace as indicated by the drilled holes on the sides of the figure. The almond-shaped eyes, flared nostrils, flattened nose, large lips, down-turned mouth, and cleft-head are common facial features among Olmec figurines. These characteristics likely relate to the were-jaguar motif, which depicts a human-jaguar supernatural figure. The term were-jaguar refers to the merging of human and jaguar characteristics, an analogy with the term werewolf. The incorporation of animal attributes suggests that the Olmec held animals in high regard and may have attempted to channel the power of such creatures. This image may also represent transformation from a human into a magical animal. Objects such as these often accompanied the king on his journey through death to the otherworld.
Elaine Higgins Smith, Digital Collections Content Coordinator, 2015.
Carol Robbins, Label text [1968.20], A. H. Meadows Galleries, 2010.
Getty Vocabulary, AAT (pendants (jewelry): AAT: 300046002).