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

Gold Headband

Diquís people, Southwest Costa Rica
700 A.D. – 1500 A.D.
Hammered gold
To understand pre-Columbian attitudes toward gold, we must let go of Western attitudes of commercialism, and embrace the spiritual world of early Central American society. To natives, light and shine represented the presence of spiritual power and morality. A person adorned in brilliant gold exuded power not through wealth, but through connection to the cosmological world. Gold was locally available to the Diquís people; however, the techniques to form objects out of the metal were specialized and known by few. This mystery behind the making of gold objects added to its intrigue and value in pre-Columbian society. As such, the wearer, perhaps a shaman or chief, would be understood to have mastered worldly forces.
With the gradual switch from ornamentations of materials such as jade, to those of gold, came societal changes. 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 “below”, and therefore feminine, gold, thought to reference the sun, was considered more masculine.  This shift in materials coincided with an increase in town-planning, and may have accompanied a shift in gender roles.
Gold headbands, or “diadems,” were fashioned out of sheet gold and could vary in height. The higher the headband reached, the more impressive. These pieces tended to be quite simple, occasionally with a few decorative marks, making variation slight and historical placement challenging. Gold headpieces likely would have been worn alongside other adornments such as jade, feathers, or shells in ritual or public life, as well as in battle and in death.

Sophia Jorasch, '16
Economics major; Corporate Strategy and Art History minor

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