Pendant in the Form of Supernatural Bird-Man

Pendant in the Form of Supernatural Bird-Man

800–1500 CE
Greater Chiriqui
Costa Rica
Gold alloy
Accession Number
Credit Line
Collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer

Unknown artist, Diquís Delta, Greater Chiriqui, Costa Rica. Pendant in the Form of Supernatural Bird-Man, 800–1500 CE. Gold alloy, 3 ⅛ x 3 ½ x 1 inches. Denver Art Museum Collection: Gift of the Collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 2003.1364.

height: 3 1/8 in, 7.9375 cm; width: 3 1/2 in, 8.8900 cm; depth: 1 in, 2.5400 cm
Mayer Center, Arts of the Ancient Americas
Arts of the Ancient Americas
This object is currently on view

Bird-Man Pendant
Greater Chiriquí
About A.D. 1200-1550
Costa Rica, Diquís
Gold alloy
Gift of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 2003.1364

This cast and hammered gold pendant is immediately recognizable as Costa Rican by the flat, slightly curved horizontal strips that serve as top and bottom frames for the central figure.  Pendants of this type feature a figure with human legs and torso and the head of a bird, bat, or crocodile.  This example wears ligatures (tight bands) at the ankles and knees, and a belt just above the carefully depicted male genitals.  The bird-man’s wings are outspread, and his large, curved beak grasps a small animal.  Ornithological identification is somewhat speculative, but the distinctive features of the head offer important clues.  The long, strong beak, with a pronounced culmen (upper ridge) rules out most of the bird species now known to inhabit Costa Rica.  The closest match is the white-necked puffbird, a substantial bird with a large, curved beak with hairlike nasal tufts at the top, and big eyes positioned on the sides of the head.  Puffbirds are predatory, keeping watch from tree branches before bursting into flight to snatch small prey from the ground or foliage.  The bird then returns to its perch, beats the prey against the branch, and swallows it.  Pairs of puffbirds aggressively defend their nesting territory.

Exhibition History
  • On loan to Yale University Art Museum late 1990s-2003.