Once again we are in this place to share data that are valuable for lovers of jewelry like us, and this time I have collected information from various parts of Pre-Hispanic America.
While this type of jewelry is not currently used, we believe it is important to know the history behind the world of jewelry. One day, one of the followers of the blog answered one of the e-mails that I send each time there is a new post saying: “All those who design have the obligation to know all the pieces that were made throughout the history since knowledge has to be cultivated”.
This phrase marked me a lot, because I think there is a lot of truth in those words. It is never too late to study our ancestors, especially if what we do has as much history as jewelry 🙂
Now, I want to talk to you about different civilizations throughout America before being colonized by European communities.
In general terms, the use of metals for making jewelery is established in this way: bronze was used in large quantities in Peru, northern Chile, Bolivia and northwestern Argentina, and in separate regions of Central America and southern Mexico.
In countries such as Colombia, Peru and Mexico artisans reach a high level of perfection in the technique of using gold. Silver was not as much adored as gold and platinum was sometimes used, although platinum and copper were more common on the coasts of Ecuador and southern Colombia. It also made use of precious stones such as emerald, extracted from Colombia and Brazil; the jade, the jadeite.
The jewels, in their majority, were used with religious reasons in the pre-Columbian cultures, also as adornments to mark the different social classes and they were essential pieces in the funeral rituals of the heads of the tribes.
In this post you will find
Quimbaya Culture – Colombia
But apart from the metals mentioned above, the most used metal was the “tumbaga”, which is an alloy of gold and copper that was developed in the Quimbaya culture, which occupied what is now known as the Coffee Region and a World Heritage Site in Colombia, and was an indigenous culture famous for its production of gold pieces of high quality and beauty.
They exploited the numerous auriferous deposits of the territory, and we have news that the historical quimbayas worked the auriferous reefs practicing in the ground inclined galleries, so narrow that only a man could descend by them, work reserved for the slaves.”
They also used alluvial gold. Copper was the most worked metal for certain objects, although in fact the most used material was the “tumbaga”, copper and gold alloy, the latter being found in a low proportion, thirty percent, and browning the surface of the objects. Platinum was also known, but it worked much less and always cold.” Sánchez Montañés (1986).
The metals proceeded to be melted in crucibles and ovens, which would later be crushed with tools made of stone. The pieces were shaped by means of techniques such as hammering and beating the metal to obtain very fine thicknesses.
The fine wires were braided to make the technique of the filigree also known in other cultures of the world, but above all they worked with molds of coal and earth, using the technique of lost wax, which is a procedure that allows to obtain metal figures (usually bronze and gold) by means of a mold that is elaborated from a prototype traditionally modeled in beeswax.
Mapuche or Araucana Culture – Argentina and Chile
The Mapuche or Araucana culture, originally from Chile that spread throughout Patagonia in Argentina, used silver as the predominant metal in their jewelry.
The Araucan artisans stood out for the dominance of the most common techniques such as embossing, chiseling, setting, welding, etc. Mainly, the jewelery of this culture was destined to beautify the woman, the adornments for the head, as tiaras and pins for the hair were very representative. They also made necklaces with beads made of materials such as glass, earrings and pectorals.
The pectorals or adornments, also feminine, trapelakucha or shykil, were composed of several elements; in general they consist of a top plate from which hang three thick chains of flat links that ended in turn in another plate of a trapezoidal shape. In addition, other elements, such as crosses, discs or rosettes, hang from both plates…” Sánchez Montañés (1986)
Other cultures specialized in mobile elements destined for the adornment of personal use, realizing pieces of jewelery as earmuffs, nose rings, diadems, bracelets, etc. And they were quite characteristic for their geometric shapes; squares, triangles, rectangles and organic forms of great originality.
Milagro-Quevedo Culture – Ecuador
This civilization existed since 500 AD C. approximately, until the arrival of the Spaniards to America around the year 1500 d. C. This prehispanic culture occupied the zone between the western foothills of the Andes mountain range and the hills of the Ecuadorian coast.
The design of his work in jewelery demonstrates the great domination that they had manipulating gold and copper.
They used forged copper, gold plates, axes, ornaments, knives, rattles, tweezers, metallophones. The gold was used for plate over copper to make glasses, nose rings, ears, figurines, nails and plates for incrustations in the teeth. They made magnificent use of silver when making nose rings; of iron pyrite, ornaments, pendants and mirrors.
Chavín and Nazca Culture – Peru
The Chavín Culture was an original civilization of the Andes of the north of Peru between the years 900 a.C until 200 a.C. They used only gold, with which they made great works, such as the Kunturwasi necklace and the Chongoyape treasure, and earrings, rings, nose rings worked on hammered and embossed gold sheets.
Its decoration was enriched with incrustations of stones or shells, which required large holes in the lobes of the ears to be placed.
The Nazca Culture was developed on the south coast of Peru, and are known worldwide for their large geoglyphs made in the highlands of the Nazca desert, near the modern city of Nazca, Peru.
They made unparalleled gold nose rings, which were used as masks that surrounded the mouth and ascended through the nose to remember the long whiskers of a jaguar, which also ended in the form of snake heads.
Mixtec Culture – Mexico
The Mixtec tribes were highlighted as astrologers, merchants and herbalists. They were dedicated goldsmiths, producing complex and delicate jewelry sets with elaborate filigree work. They also made obsidian jewelry, rock crystal, ceramics, bone engraving, wood, jade stone, coral, shell and turquoise.
The Mixtecs worked with metals such as gold, silver and copper under techniques such as hammered, lost wax, filigree and alloys.
They also designed objects with great spiritual significance such as pectorals, nose rings, earmuffs, labrets, rings, bells and other ornaments used by priests, nobles, rulers and warriors who carried them in life and at the time of his death.
The Mayan and Aztec cultures also stood out for their adoration of jade stone, and made much use of gold. They also used many types of precious stones such as moonstone, quartz, obsidian and opal. In the Mexican Jewelry article you will find much more information about these tribes.
The incredible jewelry of these cultures reflect a bit of what jewelry is today. Don’t you think? 🙂