British Museum, London. 15th century
Splendid relic of the Aztecs, who rose from squalid origins to power and riches in just 200 years, this double-headed rattlesnake serpent was used as a ceremonial chest ornament that may have been worn by a priest. It is encrusted with scales of turquoise, a stone the Aztecs imported from the outposts of their empire to adorn some of their most beautiful possessions. This piece is the work of a Mixtec jeweler, and dates from the 15th century.