About A.D. 1200-1550
Costa Rica, Diquís
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.
- On loan to Yale University Art Museum late 1990s-2003.