Harpy Eagle Pectoral

Harpy Eagle Pectoral

AD 1-500
Greater Nicoya
Costa Rica
Fashioned from jadeite, this pectoral was formed using a combination of drilling, sawing, carving, and polishing techniques.
Accession Number
Credit Line
Gift of Frederick and Jan Mayer
Harpy Eagle Pectoral. AD 1-500. Fashioned from jadeite, this pectoral was formed using a combination of drilling, sawing, carving, and polishing techniques.. Gift of Frederick and Jan Mayer. 1994.965.
height: 2 3/8 in, 6.0325 cm; width: 9 1/2 in, 24.1300 cm; depth: 1 in, 2.5400 cm
Mayer Center, Arts of the Ancient Americas
Arts of the Ancient Americas

Harpy Eagle Pendant
About A.D. 1–500
Costa Rica, Greater Nicoya region
Gift of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 1994.965

Carved from a large block of jadeite, this pendant conveys the distilled essence of ancient America’s most fearsome avian predator: the harpy eagle.  With wingspans up to seven feet and powerful grasping claws, these forest raptors seize monkeys, sloths and coatis from tree branches.  Harpy eagles build their nests in the forest’s tallest trees, and both males and females tend the young.  Females are much larger than their mates, and are therefore the more powerful predators.

Like most Costa Rican jadeite ornaments, the pendant was probably originally a celt, or axe blade (the left wing edge corresponds to the butt, the right wing edge to the blade).  Sawing (probably with wooden tools and abrasive grit) was used to cut the celt down to the desired shape and reduce the wing surfaces.  Holes drilled through the bird’s head allowed the pendant to be suspended; it was probably worn across the chest.  This pendant’s sheer size and weight, in addition to the fierceness and majesty of the bird it represents, surely conveyed power and authority.

Exhibition History
  • "Chalchihuitles: Pre-Columbian Jade and Other Sacred Stones"— Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO, 8/15/1987-10/11/1987
  • The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC, November 11/9/1987-1/15/1988
  • "New Worlds of the Rich Coast: Ancient Costa Rican Jade and Gold from the Collection of Jan and Frederick Mayer" — Utah Museum of Fine Arts, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, 4/1990-5/1990
  • "Reading the Unwritten Past: Central American Culture before Columbus" — Lamont Gallery, Frederick R. Mayer Arts Center, Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH, 9/18/1992-10/25/1992.
  • “Stampede: Animals in Art” — Denver Art Museum, 9/10/2017