Height: 19.600 cm
Gift of Sir A.W. Franks
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Muisca, AD 700-1500
This ornament is in the Muisca style typical of the Colombian highlands. It represents a human figure, possibly a shaman, with outstretched arms and legs. A pair of stylized auxiliary birds flank the figure and look upwards.
Several elements link this artefact to the theme of shamanic flight. The individual depicted wears a bird-beak head ornament. The rayed headdress probably represents a crown of brilliantly coloured feathers. Among the Kogi and the Tukano, the crown is variously said to be the sun's rays or the visible manifestation of the luminous aura that emanates from powerful shamans. The rhythmic movement and brilliance of the feather crowns would have exerted a compelling visual impression on participants in rituals while in a state of ecstatic trance. The same effect could have been provoked by the glittering of the mobile round plaques that hang from the rings around the headdress and chest.
In many societies metalsmiths, like shamans, are associated with magic. The different techniques to transform the gold in revered objects could be equated to the magic used by the shaman to transform himself.
C. McEwan (ed.), Precolumbian gold, technology, (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)
G. Reichel-Dolmatoff, Goldwork and shamanism: an ico, Medellín, Colombia, Editorial Colina (, 1988)
W. Bray, The gold of El Dorado, exh. cat. (London, Times Newspapers and Royal Academy of Arts, 1978)