Pre-Columbian, Guatemala or Mexico, Mayan, ca. 600 to 950 CE. A stunning necklace comprised of 15 finely carved jade turtle beads alternating with incised, rope style jade beads, and a vertical pendant incised with four maze-like glyphs - perhaps a variant of a mat glyph. Each turtle bead is carved from a single piece of deep apple-green jadeite and presents an emerging head, tail, and legs. Interestingly, all of the turtle beads are incised with turtle shell patterns; however, the one to the right of the vertical pendant features an abstract face on its shell. How special! Size: 20" L (50.8 cm) plus the 2" L (5.1 cm) central pendant; each turtle bead measures ~ 1.125" L x .875" W (2.9 cm x 2.2 cm)
Turtle imagery represented the watery surface separating the sky from the underworld. The turtle also served as an earth metaphor and had fertility connotations. In addition, the turtle was believed to be an ally of the Maya rain god Chac. Its carapace was worn by Mayan bacabs, avatars of the rain god, and oftentimes turtle shells accompanied Mayan rulers in their graves to ensure new life and fertility in the Otherworld.
Jade was revered by the Maya not only for its beauty, but also because it had spiritual power - it was believed to be the embodiment of the wind and the "breath" that formed the Maya soul. In addition, scholars argue that its color was associated with water and vegetation. While the Maya used jade beads to create impressive jewelry, we also know that they placed jade beads in the mouths of the dead, perhaps as a means of extending the circle of life. Furthermore, many scholars have argued that the demand for jade contributed to the rise of long distance trading networks as well as the rise of urban centers in ancient Mesoamerica.
Provenance: private Los Angeles County, California, USA collection
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About seven of the rope beads have broken in half (one in thirds), but the sections are still there and could easily be reattached. The turtle beads and mat glyph pendant are in excellent condition. All have expected surface wear commensurate with age and normal earth deposits which are especially visible in the recesses. All beads are ancient though strung in modern times.