Disembodied human heads are ubiquitous in the Pre-Columbian iconography of Costa Rica and neighboring areas of Panama. Accounts make it clear that indigenous peoples practiced taking and displaying human heads as trophies. In this volcanic stone example, the closed eyes and slack mouth suggest death, while the close-fitting cap of geometric design may be of fiber as the form suggests twisted cords or a rattan-like material. It was thought that taking trophy heads was the direct result of warfare undertaken by warriors over conflicts about territory, material resources and/or leadership.
However, there was another signiﬁcant dimension to warfare—the magical and the supernatural, whereby decapitation may have been viewed as a necessary evil for combating the adverse effects of sorcery (Hoopes 2007). Usekars (wizards) were powerful religious practitioners who defended their communities against sorcery and were themselves capable of casting harmful spells. As late as the nineteenth century, the Bribri usekars of eastern Costa Rica organized revenge-motivated raiding parties to kill and decapitate other sorcerers. However decapitation occurred, the prevalence of severed heads in ancient Costa Rican art indeed indicates particular beliefs regarding the potency of the head, diminishing the vitality of the individual's larger family, and increasing that of the head-taker.
cf: Hoopes, John W. “Sorcery and the Taking of Trophy Heads in Ancient Costa Rica.” INTERDISCIPLINARY CONTRIBUTIONS TO ARCHAEOLOGY, pp. 444–480., doi:10.1007/978-0-387-48303-0_17.
Condition: Intact and in excellent condition overall. The marble display base is included with this object.
Dimensions: Length: 4 1/2 inches (11.5 cm)
Provenance: Mirtha Virginia de Perea (1929 - 2019) private collection of Costa Rican art. Mrs. de Perea spent her entire 48-year career with the Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington, DC, achieving the rank of Cultural Minister-Counselor and Consul after having started as a secretary. She was a devoted patron of the arts, promoting numerous local artists and sponsoring many cultural events throughout her career. She also amassed an impressive collection of Latin American art. After retiring in 1999, she became a US citizen and continued her support of the arts through her membership in the Women’s Committee of the Washington National Opera and other local groups.
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