Pre-Columbian, Southern Mexico to Guatemala, Olmec culture, ca. 1150 to 550 BCE. An absolutely enormous, hand-carved mottled olivine-serpentine celt with light and dark inclusions, presenting a tapered conical handle, a gradually-expanding body, a smooth exterior, and rounded blade faces with an acutely-angled edge. The olivine-serpentine stone itself exhibits areas of green, blue-green, and black color, giving it an elegant presentation. The celt is a tapered hand tool of a highly-stylized ritual form with an overall ovoid form and a curved blade. Meticulously flaked and then sanded to a smooth, reflective sheen, this is a stunning piece of art, designed to resemble a common weapon but used for a votive function, probably carried in a ceremony and/or buried with its owner. Lucite display stand for photography purposes only. Size: 4.375" W x 9.5" H (11.1 cm x 24.1 cm).
Olmec artisans used long distance trade routes to acquire greenstone like this from Eastern Guatemala, over three hundred miles from their homeland. All of this speaks to its immense value in society. Green stones seem to have been associated with water, vegetation, and young corn, the staple food of Olmec life. Recent scholarship has linked the embrace of green serpentine by the Olmec to the importance of corn in the Olmec economy as greenstone along with quetzal plumes symbolized verdant maize, a most valuable staple, to the indigenous peoples. In fact, greenstone celts like this example symbolized ears of corn and were used as a form of currency by the Olmec (Karl A. Taube, Olmec Art at Dumbarton Oaks, 1996, p. 18). Based on burial practices, particularly the objects from important burials at La Venta in the present day Mexican state of Tabasco, we believe that green stone was reserved for high nobility, royalty, and the gods.
This item is an exemplar of ancient Mesoamerican sculpture, impressive for its technique, iconography, and well as the inherent beauty of ancient stone-working. A superb sculptural work from the Olmec, indeed the first Mesoamerican civilization that most regard as the forerunner of subsequent ancient American cultures such as the Maya and Aztecs!
Provenance: private Los Angeles County, California, USA collection, since 1985
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Repairs to tip of handle and large section of blade edge with some light adhesive residue and overpainting along break lines. Surface wear and abrasions commensurate with age as expected, small nicks to bottom of handle, and some old sticker residue on one face. Light earthen deposits throughout.