Articles of pre-columbian jewelry made in Colombia (which included the neighbouring region of Panama until 1903) by the various Indian tribes whose techniques and styles differed in the various regions.
The jewelry and many other objects were made of gold or tumbaga (a gold-copper alloy) from c. 300 BC until the conquest, c. 1539, of the country by the Spanish Conquistadors under Jimenez de Quesada. Among the articles that have been found are pectorals (often in the form of anthropomorphic figures), pendants, nose ornaments, ear ornaments labrets, masks and the indigenous tunjos (votive figures), poporas (lime flasks), and effigly flasks.
The pieces of Colombian jewelry were often made of thin, flat, hammered metal decorated with «repousse» work and chasing, sometimes with threads of false filigree, and fine examples were made by the «cire perdue» process.
The surviving pieces (over 5,000 are in the Museo del Oro, Bogota) are principally the result of plundering by grave robbers or of grave excavations by archaeologists in recent years; a vast number of pieces were melted into ingots by the Conquistadors or after being taken to Spain.
However, much is believed to remain in the depths of Lake Guatavita, the circular mountain lake near Bogota into which, upon the installation of each Muisca chief (known as ‘El Dorado’ , on account of his being completely covered with gold dust), gold offerings a n d emeralds were thrown from his raft into the lake, as sacrifices to the gods.
Articles made in the Calima region of south-western Colombia (perhaps the oldest, c. 300 BC, in Colombia), often cut from nearly pure gold sheet metal and having hammered and «repousse» decoration, and sometimes having miniature work cast by the «cire perdue» process.
The articles are large, and include pectorals (sometimes decorated with «repousse» human faces), nose ornaments (sometimes with thin, dangling cylinders that vibrate), lime dippers and long pins (with ornate tops in the form of naturalistic or imaginative human or animal figures), funerary masks, and the ‘twistednail’ ear ornaments made of long, tightly coiled wire, and also a so-called ‘diadem’.
made by the Chibcha-speaking Indians in the Muisca region of Colombia. One tribe, living on the high plateaux of central Colombia near present-day Bogota and near the sacred Lake Guatavita, was ruled by the legendary ‘El Dorado’ (The Gilded Man), at whose installation as new ruler he and the chiefs, going to the centre of the lake on a raft, threw gold jewelry and emeralds into the lake as offerings to the gods.
The region produced no gold but acquired it in abundance in exchange for its vast production of emeralds and salt. A piece of such gold jewelry is a necklace composed of many identical small figures of birds and abstract forms, presumably made by the use of a local invention, the matrix, for mass production.
made in the Narino region in the southernmost Andes of Colombia, bordering Ecuador. The objects were made of gold or tumbaga, and some of pale gold (indicating an alloy with silver). The objects were usually of flat hammered metal with cut-out or «repousse» decoration and highly burnished, and often featured a Monkey motif.
The main articles were cut-out crescent-shaped ear ornaments (width 6 to 14 cm) and cut-out nose ornaments, both with monkey figures, and metal discs with a pierced hole, probably to be suspended as mobiles.
made by the Indians of the Popayan region in the High Andes of southern Colombia which are closely related to those of the nearby regions of San Augustin and Tierradentro. The articles included gold and copper discs, but nr notably the Popayan eagles.
is a type of pectoral, made of tumbaga in the Popaya, region of Colombia, that is in the form of an eagle with spread wings and tail, having helical ear ornaments, sometimes an anthropomorphic head and sometimes attached human legs and phallus.
. Articles of pre-columbian jewelry made, strictly speaking, by the Quimbaya Indian tribe but, in customary usage, articles in the so-called Quimbaya style recovered from looted graves and tombs throughout the Middle Cauca Valley of the Andes in the middle of Colombia, made c. 400-1000, such as typified by the Quimbaya Treasure
The articles include pendants and masks with humanoid faces, pectorals of cut-out humonoid figures (sometimes with suspended discs), poporas (lime flasks) and Lime-dippers, effigly flacks, helmets, finger-grips for spear-throwers, nose ornaments, ear ornaments, and pectoral discs.
made in the Sinu region of northern Colombia, near Panama.
Among the many articles made of gold and tumbaga are:
– semi-circular ear ornaments in lacy openwork patterns made by the «cire perdue» process, requiring great skill owing to the thread-like channels through which the molten gold had to flow before cooling;
– wide, semi-circular breastplates of hammered metal with «repousse» breasts and decoration;
– wide nose ornaments of flat, slanting strips of metal;
– pendants in the form of naturalistic or stylized anthropomorphic figures made of cast gold with «repousse» work and false filigree decoration;
– necklaces with gold beads;
– ‘staff heads’ (of unknown use) with animalistic tops.
made in the Tairona region of northern Colombia along the Caribbean coast by the Indian tribes who lived in towns of the lowlands and, when subdued by the Conquistadors, moved into the high valleys of the Sierra Nevada.
Their descendants, the Kogi and the Ika, the only tribes remaining today from the early Indians, no longer make jewelry.
The Tairona jewelry, made of gold or tumbaga, usually cast by the «cire perdue» process but sometimes flat and hammered, includes pendants in the form of:
– a mythological creature combining anthropomorphic, eagle, and bat characteristics,
– an anthropomorphic figure wearing detailed miniature replicas of all types of local jewelry,
– a bird with a large beak.
Other articles are non-representational pendants of anchor shape, labrets, ear and nose ornaments, necklaces (some with carnelian or stone beads), spacer beads, and spiral spectacle-shaped ornaments. Two gold pendants have been found in Venezuela just east of the Tairona region; they have been ascribed to Tairona jewelry, as no other gold jewelry from Venezuela is known.
Articles of pre-columbian jewelry made in the Tolima region of Colombia, south-west of Bogota, inhabited by the Panche and Pijao tribes. Most typical are the large (height, c. 10 to 22 cm) pectorals of gold or tumbaga, made by the Pijaos, in the form of stylized ‘silhouette’ anthropomorphic figures of cast and hammered flat sheet metal with angular arms and legs, sometimes a flat prolongation of the spine as a sort of crescent-shaped tail, and sometimes false filigree facial features.
Some such pectorals were decorated with many symmetrical openwork slits. Other articles were pendants of similar silhouette form (sometimes strung on a necklace) in the form of fantastic animals.
Articles of pre columbian jewelry made in the Tumaco region along the Pacific and extending across the border of present-day Colombia and Ecuador.
The objects were made of gold and tumbaga, but also here of platinum which was found in the local rivers.
Some objects were made of almost pure platinum (e.g. nose ornaments); but usually the metal was mixed with gold dust and hammered into a composite mass, showing a change of color to whitish or greenish-yellow, and when so used with gold it resulted in objects of contrasting colors.