Exhibiting Historical Art: Out of the Vault: Stories of People and Things

Origins - Diquís Region

Once gold working practices developed in Peru, they slowly spread across the Americas, including to the Diquís region beginning around 800 A.D. The means by which this spread occurred remain unclear. It is possible that individuals from Central America traveled to South America, learned the trade, and brought it back with them. It is also possible that artisans from Peru and other early-adopting regions traveled north, bringing the practices to new regions. As the technology and preference for gold works spread, cultures began to shift from a reliance on jade to a reliance on gold. It is also possible that trade routes supplying jade began to break down, causing a more necessary move toward gold. With this shift, several cultural changes occurred. The creation of new trade routes and technologies shifted power to different people and regions. At the same time came a shift in city planning and the apparent creation of a template for a city, commonly used in many regions, including the Diquís region. Indigenous Costa Ricans suggested a dichotomy between those things “above,” such as the sun and birds, and those things “below,” such as water and snakes. The above realm was seen as masculine and the below as feminine. While jade would have been feminine and “below,” Gold, thought to reference the sun, was inherently more masculine. Therefore the shift in materials may have created a shift in gender roles as well. In this sense, not only were gold pieces affected by the values of the individual creators and owners, but the opposite existed as well, as the gold trade affected the culture of these peoples.

Once gold working technologies reached the Diquís Delta, the region began to form its own styles. Many pieces from this area possess great similarities in "thickness, gilding, and the use of balls and repoussé in border patterns. Gold headbands, or “diadems,” were fashioned out of sheet gold and could vary in height. The taller the headband, the more impressive. These pieces tended to be quite simple, occasionally with a few decorative marks. This particular headband has no such decorative marks, instead is roughly hammered out and punched along the edge to allow for closure. The simplicity of these objects makes variation slight and historical placement challenging. Though the Diquís region was home to some of the best goldsmith techniques, it also appears to be home to some of the crudest workmanship. Why this range exists is unknown but could explain the surprisingly rough edges and imperfections in this piece in comparison with other pieces from the region. Additionally, the creation of this headband is unusual for the region, for which gold work was almost entirely limited to the formation of breastplates, cast bells, figurine pectorals, and pendants. 

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