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Carved Plaque

Arts of the Americas

The Olmec, whose civilization flourished on the Gulf Coast of Mexico from 1200 to 400 B.C.E., excelled at jade carving. The rarity, beauty, and hardness of the stone, with its variety of colors ranging from light green to a rich blue green, made it a desirable material for small objects. Jade was symbolically related to water, plants, and fertility. Spoons, often with incised designs, were likely used by shamans to ingest hallucinogens that induced visions and allowed them to communicate with the supernatural world. The shape of the plaque seen here is interpreted as a corn symbol, an indication of the crop’s importance. Images incised on Olmec celts (ceremonial axes) show figures wearing plaques like this one as headdress ornaments.
MEDIUM Jadeite
  • Place Made: Mexico
  • DATES 800–500 B.C.E.
    PERIOD Preclassic Period or Middle Formative
    DIMENSIONS 3 3/16 x 1 1/2 x 1/4 in. (7.8 x 3.8 x 0.6 cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of the Americas
    CREDIT LINE Collection of Christopher B. Martin
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Carved jadeite plaque, trapezoidal in form and crowned at the top with a triangle on the right and curved scroll on the left; parallel lines below are carved in relief and there is a small, round indentation near the top. This object has been identified with headdress ornaments depicted on incised celts, and the form has been interpreted as a corn symbol. There are drill holes indicating that it was probably attached to a headdress. Text by GdeH 9/2011: During the time of the Olmec civilization (800-500 B.C.E.), the first maize imagery appears in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico in what are today’s states of Veracruz and Tabasco. This Olmec jade amuletic plaque is carved in the shape of what is believed to be a corn symbol. Images carved on ancient Olmec celts show plaques such as this worn in headdress ornaments, a function confirmed by the drill holes on the back and sides to facilitate attachment. Precious jade used as a medium to depict a corn stalk suggests that corn, and its attendant symbolism, was associated with the ruling elite.
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION Olmec. Carved Plaque, 800–500 B.C.E. Jadeite, 3 3/16 x 1 1/2 x 1/4 in. (7.8 x 3.8 x 0.6 cm). Collection of Christopher B. Martin, L73.15.2. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, L73.15.2_transpc002.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, L73.15.2_transpc002.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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