The reverence for jade and its influential mythic and power-bestowing symbolism originates in Mesoamerica in the early first millennium B.C. among the Olmec. The tradition of jade carving continued unbroken until the time of the Spanish conquest. This was not the case, however,in the region, which encompasses modern Costa Rica; there, fine lapidary work in jade first appears circa 300 B.C. and disappears by A.D. 700. Nonetheless, no region would produce a greater abundance of jade objects than Costa Rica. The archetypal Costa Rican jade form is the so-called axe-god, in which an animal, human or composite effigy surmounts a celt-like polished blade; such pendants were drilled for suspension and apparently worn by the elite. With little progressive, artistic evolution Costa Rican jades appear full-blown as complex emblems-possibly totemic or denoting social status.
The group of jades described here captures the boundless creativity and strength of these ancient artists: through the distinctive categories-effigies of animals both fantastic and realistic as well as the ubiquitous axe-god, fine workmanship and careful choice of hues running from blue-green, so treasured by the Olmec, to spinach-green.
These translucent jades clearly symbolize water and young, green plants-the 'vital force' for sustenance and survival of these ancient peoples.