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Sican/Lambayeque (Peru)

Ear spool

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Object Details

Culture

Sican/Lambayeque (Peru)

Date

AD 900-1375

Medium

Silver alloy

Dimensions

2 9/16 × 1 15/16 inches (6.5 × 5 cm)

Credit Line

Gift of Thomas Carroll, PhD 1951

Object
Number

2006.070.417

BRIEF DESCRIPTIONThis is a genuine pair of silver ear spools that once perforated the earlobes of a (…)

BRIEF DESCRIPTIONThis is a genuine pair of silver ear spools that once perforated the earlobes of a nobleman of the Kingdom of Chimor or perhaps the earlier Sicán culture.WHERE WAS IT MADE?These earspools were made in what is now Peru.HOW WAS IT MADE?These earspools were made from sheets of silver. Silver and gold were more precious metals, and appear to have been used for higher status items. Copper was more common. The designs on the flares (the flat part of the earspools) were made by hammering a sharp stylus against the back of the metal. This is called repoussé. Metalworking is generally thought to have arisen in the highlands of Peru, from whence it spread northward to what is now Ecuador, Colombia, and into Mesoamerica.HOW WAS IT USED?Earspools and other jewelry items were worn by high status individuals in many pre-Columbian cultures. These specific earspools were worn by a nobleman from the Kigndom of Chimor, or perhaps the earlier Sicán culture. Earspools were still fashionable at the time of the Spanish Conquest. High-status individuals were referred to by the Spanish as “orejones” (literally “big eared ones”). By wearing ever-larger ear plugs, ear lobes can be stretched out to accommodate large, thick backs such as the ones on these ear spools.WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE THIS?Look at the images on the flares (the flat part of the earspools). Each flare is decorated with an image of a human figure in a boat. The small, crescent-shaped boat is probably similar to modern boats made from bundled totora reeds (a type of reed). The figure sits with small flexed legs, with his head turned looking straight out at us. His face is triangular, and he wears a large crescent headdress. Such crescents were worn by leaders beginning with the Moche culture. They remained part of the Sicán culture and emerged as signifiers of spiritual men (gods or deceased) during the Chimor Empire.ABOUT THE CHIMÚ CULTURE:The Chimú Empire, or Kingdom of Chimor, was established in the Tenth Century in the Moche Valley on the north coast of present-day Peru. By 1400 AD, the Chimú ruled an empire 800 miles long, encompassing the fertile, agriculturally productive irrigated coastal valleys stretching from Tumbez to Chillón. The imperial capital of Chan Chan, located near the modern city of Trujillo, covered 20 square kilometers, housed a population of 50,000 to 100,000 people, and included pyramids, residences, markets, workshops, reservoirs, storehouses, gardens, and cemeteries. Chimú architecture is made of adobe decorated with geometrically patterned mosaics or molded bas-reliefs of stylized animals, birds, and mythological figures. Chimú artisans used similar decorative elements in their pottery, metal ornaments, and finely detailed textiles, many of which are embellished with ornate featherwork. Chimú pottery was mass-produced in molds by craft specialists and is typically highly burnished blackware. The most common shape was the stirrup-spout bottle, which often has a small monkey figure located on the spout. After the Inca conquest of Chimor in 1470, during the reign of Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui, Chimú vessels tend to have broad, flaring spouts similar to those on Inca aryballoid jars. Chimú-Inca vessels often have shapes similar to the Inca aryballos or urpu, but are made of typically Chimú blackware and are decorated in characteristically Chimú style.

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