One of five large gold plaques or breast-plates found on a long-departed Panamanian chief, the one pictured above might be the most impressive. It is entirely intact (unlike this one, which seems to have had a bite taken out of it…), and the fine details of the creature’s tails and claws are impressive. The teeth, which measure only a few millimeters tall, are as menacing as tiny daggers. If you look very closely, you can even see the scratches in the figure’s central triangle that originated from the artist’s work and subsequent burnishing.
I have previously shared my interest in the excavations and history at Sitio Conte, and renewed excavations have discovered even more spectacular work from these amazing craftsmen, but I won’t go into much detail about the site, because this post is all about the bling.
Gold was readily available to the Coclé culture at the time the chief and his tribe made this first millennium piece. Only the chief and his elites would be able to wear their golden adornments, and the chiefs reserved the best pieces for themselves to wear in battle and in death.
Could you imagine a physically-imposing guy all decked out in flashy jewelry running toward you with the sun glinting off his golden armor? It’s like a Pre-Columbian Mr. T coming to knock you out.
Pretty impressive for a 8th Century chief, eh?
Penn Museum Object #40-13-11
See this and other objects like it in Penn Museum’s Online Collection Database.