Pre-Columbian Figure of Gold

The Assignment

Adam Ford left this comment on my recent post – That “Oldest Action Figure” Picture You Keep Seeing. We exchanged emails and I was led on the fun journey you’ll see uncovered below.

Adam’s images he shared with me –

Research Begins

I sesarched the name of the museum, Musee de Quai Branley, and the catalog number 71.1945.6.1 (you see in the above image) which led me here –

Right click, translated to English and got this info –

Tumaco-La Tolita Native American Art from the province of Carchi, 300 BC – 300 AD. This time frame places this figure in the Pre-Columbian era.

Based on the keywords and description we can see that it’s at least assumed that this is a ceremonial or funeral object, as can be expected of figures in this time frame.

Similar Figures

Here’s a very similar figure from the same location and time period.

Rosemaniakos from Bejing (hometown) – Flickr
Original caption from photographer “Rosemaniakos” on Flickr: Standing Figure, 1st century B.C. – A.D. 1st century Origin: Colombia or Ecuador; Tolita/Tumaco Material: Gold (hammered); H. 9 in. (22.9 cm) Metropolitan # (1995.427) The three-dimensional figures of the Tolita-Tumaco area are among the most striking of Precolumbian gold objects. The present example is particularly distinguished by its fancy nose ornament, evidence that some form of headdress was once present, and by the position of the hands, which originally held objects now missing. The feet too have been lost. Made of many pieces of high-quality sheet gold, the figure may have been clothed for special occasions. The Tolita-Tumaco style area crosses the Colombia-Ecuador border along the humid Pacific coast.

Reading that this figure may have been clothed for special occasions, makes me believe these figures were very much used in religious ceremonies. The eyes are emphasized on the first figure, the nose on the second, possibly representing specifics of their ceremonial purposes.


As I’ve found the main evidence I aimed to find, I’m relying heavily on quotes for the next two segments. Click the links to read in much more depth.

Tumaco-La Tolita Culture

These gold coated, metal figures were made by experts of the craft.

“The sophisticated manipulation of metallic materials resulted in several notable advances made by the La Tolita-Tumaco culture: the production of very fine rectangular wire, the bimetallic tumbaga alloys, the small lead spheres encrusted with platinum; the soldier; the granulation and degree of sophistication of the metalwork is very impressive and sometimes represents unique cases in the world.”

Read more about the Tumaco-La Tolita metalwork here –

Tumaco-La Tolita Religion

“groups who attained levels of political, social and economic development unparallelled in the region or elsewhere in north-western South America. They were controlled by important caciques and shamans wielding great religious and political power throughout the coastal regions of Colombia and Ecuador.”

This culture was obsessive about the human figure, creating thousands of realistic depictions in clay.

“Figurative representations are in themselves vehicles for encoded messages which can be deciphered through semiotic analysis, bringing us closer to the original ideas of their makers and what they signified within the social, economic and political structure of a society.”

“Some pieces were certainly of a ritual shamanic nature, including bells, jaguar-toothed masks, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic pectorals and assembled human figures, as well as clay figurines with gold ornaments.”

A political and religious culture that created objects representative of and used within these processes.


See more of Adam here –

Read more on similar topics here –

Honestly I loved this challenge. If there’s any miniature answers you’d like me to find for you, send ’em my way.

4 thoughts on “Pre-Columbian Figure of Gold

Add yours

  1. thanks so much! i never thought of those numbers as catalogue numbers – just a date format i couldn’t interpret. and thank you for opening this door to things i had never imagined.

    1. Of course, seriously anytime. I loved this assignment. Not sure why I knew they were catalog numbers. I’m sure I learned it somewhere but had never searched for something that way before.

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