Pre-Columbian, South Coast Peru, Huari / Wari, ca. 700 to 1000 CE. A striking poporo portrait head finely carved out of wood, its glistening gold sheet (80% gold, equivalent to 18K+) covered face presenting a dramatic visage comprised of almond-shaped eyes inlaid with purple spondylus irises and white shell scleras, orange spondylus shell cheeks, and a magnificent headdress with a lower band of rectangular orange alternating with purple spondylus shell pieces and an upper cylindrical section of vermilion orange spondylus and brilliant blue lapis lazuli sections. A gem of an object, a true and rare masterpiece! Size: 1.25" W x 2" H (3.2 cm x 5.1 cm); 9.25" H (23.5 cm) in custom case. Gold quality: 80% gold, equivalent to 18K+.
A poporo is a device used by indigenous cultures of Pre-Columbian South America for storage of small amounts of lime made from calcined seashells. It consists of two pieces: the receptacle, and the lid which includes a pin that is used to carry the lime to the mouth while chewing coca leaves. Since the chewing of coca has traditionally been considered sacred for the indigenous people, poporos have also been attributed with mystical powers and social status.
This piece is made of materials that carried significant meaning to the indigenous of Peru. Spondylus shells, for example, also known as spiny or thorny oysters for their pointy surfaces, have been revered by Andean peoples since the Pre-Columbian era. In addition to being featured in their artwork and used as currency, Spondylus pieces served as sacred offerings to Pachamama, the earth/time mother, a version of Mother Nature. Gold represented a sacred metal, ideal for embellishing an elite individual's possession and fostering his/her passage to the afterlife.
Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection; ex-Ben Johnson Collection, Los Angeles, California, USA, former curator of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1970s
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Some indentations, nicks, and darkened areas on the gold sheet. A few fissures to inlays. Missing one ear/earspool. Remaining earspool possibly once had inlay.