The earliest jewelry from what is today, Oaxaca, Mexico, was discovered in the tombs of Monte Alban. The Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban lie on a mountaintop, not far from Oaxaca city and date back to about 500 BC. Not only was elaborate jewelry buried with the priests and noblemen there, but there are many carvings and sculptures that depict the various gods wearing earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and elaborate head gear.
All pictures by Linda Landig at the Santo Domingo Museum, in Oaxaca city.
Priests and royalty were buried with all their earthly possessions, so they could
carry the items with them into the next life. Body adornment that was
taken to the grave helped preserve some of these treasures. But the Spaniards later took huge amounts of the gold jewelry and art and melted it down into gold bullion.
The simplest jewelry consisted of drilled stones strung into necklaces and carved into ear plugs.
The area was rich with the gifts of the earth and sea, such as turquoise, pearls, coral, quartz crystal, obsidian, shells, iridescent feathers and jade, all of which were incorporated into art and jewelry.
I love the way the double strands (below) are spaced with two-hole dividers in this necklace. Pretty impressive.
Some of the stones were embellished with carved designs, as is the case with this jade bead set.
The necklaces pictured below are evidence of a society with a well
developed sense of design and sophisticated metalsmithing
skills. Craftsmen specialized in different materials and were divided into different groups, such as stone sculptors, lapidaries, mosaic workers and goldsmiths. The various disciplines even developed guilds.
Oaxaca was one of the prime gold centers in what today is Mexico and south to Costa Rica. The gold used in pre-hispanic jewelry was not usually mined, but was found as pure nuggets in the river beds.
Goldsmiths were held in high regard, both for the beauty they created as well as the skill required. The two most common methods of working the gold were casting and beating. Gold was cast using the lost-wax method. It was also beaten into thin sheets which could be decorated by punching and repoussé Sometimes thin layers of gold were layered over clay or charcoal beads for a more economical use of the gold.
This bracelet is a lovely example of pre-hispanic chasing and repoussé.
Isn’t this just gorgeous?!
This one reminds me of some ancient Egyptian jewelry for some reason.
Like the stone sculptures mentioned earlier, deities were also depicted adorned with jewelry in gold. The filigree-type work, at the top of the mask ,represents the feathers of the god of the sky. I wish I knew the meaning of the scary looking mouthpiece.
I’ll end this post with a grand finale piece: A turquoise, coral and gold, multi-strand necklace with gold spacer bars. Wow!
My next AJE post will be an introduction to some of the jewelry made after the arrival of the Spaniards. I hope you’ll join me then.