Staff finial Tumbaga 150 b.C. - d.C 1600 Majagual, Sucre 7,8 x 9,9 cm
Breastplate Gold 150 b.C. - A.D. 1600 Planeta Rica, Córdoba 20,8 x 14,9 cm
Stick head Gold  A.D. 670 4,5 x 2,7 x 10.5 cm

Technology and Scenes from Everyday Life

Around the time of the Spanish Conquest, the goldwork of the peoples living on the Serranía de San Jacinto and in the lower Magdalena valley, unlike that of the Zenúes on the coastal plains, generally consisted of relatively small ornaments, made by casting copper and gold alloys. These objects were part of the funerary regalia that were buried with the dead.

Their fundamental feature is that tumbaga with high copper contents tended to predominate, and this has meant that many objects have corroded. To give the surface of these objects a gilded appearance, they were subjected to a chemical heating process that is nowadays known as gilding by oxidation. The gilded surface layer has disappeared with the passing of time and because of the intensive use to which the objects were put, revealing the base metal, a dark and corroded copper. The most common manufacturing and ornamentation technique was cast filigree, generally with very fine strands.

The goldwork art of the Serranía included small stick heads with a range of different representations of men and animals, very fine cast filigree circular and semi-circular ear rings, nose rings with side extensions, men with forked headdresses, circular or 'n'-shaped nose rings, bells and rattles.

Various motifs were represented on these ornaments: some are realistic images, others are highly schematised. The figures of human beings are naturalistic, depicting men with gourds in their hands or musicians with pipes and maracas, either standing or sitting on benches with high backs. Wildlife species include those typically found on the rugged Serranía, but also others from marshy or riverside areas. Small birds, mammals, reptiles and schematised human beings, meanwhile, adorn ear rings.

One very typical feature of these objects is that scenes are represented on them, such as flocks of ducks sitting on a branch, a feline figure fighting with an alligator, or a man holding the claws of a bird of prey.

Prominent in these scenes and on other ornaments are feline and amphibian figures and birds, as the main animals associated with human beings. Men and animals generally retain their individual features, such as finely-attired dignitaries with very schematic bodies, some of them with very real-looking frogs or toads on their chests; but occasionally images are found which portray a merging of different beings into just one, with human face and forked headdress suggesting feathered crests, and where the body becomes that of an animal which could be a fish, a lizard or a crustacean, but anyway is some aquatic creature typical of their marshy environment.

Certain features of this goldwork, such as the generalised use of the cast filigree weave, stick heads, semi-circular ear rings and nose rings with side extensions, were very typical interpretations by these peoples, but at the same time they suggest close social relations with the Zenúes and the influence of these latter on both the way objects were made and on the ideas behind their symbolic thought.

Since large numbers of objects have come from the Serranía de San Jacinto, it could possibly have been an important manufacturing centre. We do not know when the production of goldwork began in these regions, but in view of the similarity of the themes and techniques to those found in goldwork from the floodable plains, which was made at least as long ago as 200 B.C., it could have started a long time ago. Production certainly continued until after the Conquest, as this has been proved by carbon dating, which has shown that some objects were made between 1420 and 1665 A.D.