This shape of this bone artifact is known as a Portuguese cross, a form derived from the Christ Cross of the Order of Christ, a Catholic (later secular) order in Portugal that stemmed from the Knights Templar. Approximately 100 years after the order’s founding, Prince Henry the Navigator, Grand Master of the Military Order of Christ, used the order as a source of funding. In recognition, he placed the Portuguese Cross on the sails of Portuguese sailing vessels employed in maritime explorations at the beginning of colonial expansion.
Between 1420 and his death in 1460, Henry sponsored numerous voyages to discover new maritime routes, develop better understandings of the trade winds, and gain access to and claim many islands in the Atlantic Ocean and locales in Western Africa. Because Portugal dominated early European maritime exploration and colonization, the Portuguese Cross became one of the most recognizable symbols of the Portuguese Empire.
Unknown is which bone from what animal was used to manufacture the artifact. The cross’s arms are of equal length and flare on the ends, and a drilled attachment hole is in the center. On one side, an indentation carved into each arm may have been for setting semi-precious stones. The inserted stones would have increased its value significantly. This small item, measuring only about 10mm square, may have been part of a rosary, or perhaps it was worn separately.