Diameter: 20.400 cm
Purchased with the Christy Fund
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Hammered and embossed gold helmet
Quimbaya, AD 600-1100
Two combined techniques were used to fashioned this helmet: hammering and embossing. Gold granules and nuggets, found in sands and gravels from river beds, were beaten into flat, thin sheets. Sixteenth-century Spanish chroniclers describe hammers made of very hard stone used by Pre-Columbian metalsmiths. The thin sheet was worked by repeated hammering combined with a process called annealing, which entails heating the metal and cooling it with water before hammering again. Tumbaga, an alloy of gold and copper, becomes brittle and hard to work if it is hammered continuously without annealing.
The embossed design on this helmet of a naked female with upraised arms parallels similar figures on gold lime-flasks. It is quite possible that the helmets and the lime-flasks may have been used together in fertility rites to invoke ancestral sources of power and ensure the regeneration of plants and fruits essential to sustain human life.
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)