Pre-Columbian, north coast of Peru, Sican / Lambayeque culture, ca. 850 to 1000 CE. A pair of rare, fascinating objects - high percentage silver-bodied birds with hammered 16K sheet gold covering their upper portions and forming their heads. Each bird has a long beak ending in a rounded dot of gold. Their heads have incised features, including large eyes; on one, a ridged band around the back and on the wing may be imitations of feathers. Birds are very common motifs in Sican goldwork. Based on similar examples from the Jan Mitchell Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see below), the silver lower parts of the birds were probably once vessels. Their surfaces here can be partially seen, and they are sparingly decorated with stamped linear and geometric motifs. Size of one (they are flattened): 5.6" W (14.2 cm); 7" H (17.8 cm) on included custom stand.
Most of what we know about Sican comes from a large area called the Batan Grande Archaeological Complex, a huge ceremonial and cemetery site for a little-understood ancient civilization. Building pyramids that rise over 40 m high and thousands of tombs, the Sican occupied this region for a lengthy period. Fabulous finds - often containing gold and silver objects - mark out the graves of the ancient elite. These tombs were filled with human sacrifices, mantles made of shell and feathers, lapis lazuli, cinnabar, scepters, arrows, effigy jars, and vessels like these probably once were.
c.f., The Art of Precolumbian Gold: The Jan Mitchell Collection, by Jan Mitchell and Julie Jones (ed.), 1985.
Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection; ex-Parke Bernet, New York, New York, USA, by 1980; ex-P. Haig collection
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Both are partially crushed, as shown, as a result of deposition. Extensive deposits and nice age patina on surface.