University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Sitio Conte in Real Time: February 7, 1940

February 7, 2015

Wed. Feb. 7. Ash Wednesday. In spite of “Carnival” yesterday, all men at work by 7:10. Much [?] at this hour, calm & not hot. Got very hot during day. Lothrop had chicha party for men after work. Cook is apparently dissatisfied & threatens to leave frequently. Muse have good talk with him & settle things. Did a little cataloging at night.

-J. Alden Mason, Diary, February 7, 1940


It was back to work for the team after their Carnival (or what we call Mardi Gras) celebrations the day before.  It seems even though it was Ash Wednesday, the party didn’t stop. It was a tradition for the visiting excavation teams to throw a “chicha” party at least once for the men during their stay.  The Lothrops were leaving soon for good and perhaps this was their good-bye party.

Speaking of parties! Let’s take a break from the daily grind of the Panamanian Expedition and jump ahead in time several months and then years.

When Mason returned from Panama to the Museum in April of 1940, they came back with crates and crates of gold adornments and plaques embossed with animal-human motifs, pottery, tools, and weapons.  The objects were quickly accessioned and put on display by June, 1940.  We don’t have many records or any photographs from the first installation of the Sitio Conte collection, but we do have an eye-popping newspaper clipping from June 16th.  In it, Chiquita Beck of Philadelphia poses with many of the gold ornaments on an alter in the Mesoamerican Gallery. What a different time this was in the Museum!


That was 75 years ago. Today, February 7, 2015, marks the opening of a new exhibition at the Penn Museum, Beneath the Surface: Life, Death, and Gold in Ancient PanamaWhile you can no longer recline on our treasured objects or wear the priceless gold adornments of the Coclé chiefs, you can learn more about this mysterious and complex society.  Come explore the rich culture of the Coclé people. On exhibition are large golden plaques and pendants with animal-human motifs, precious and semi-precious stone, ivory, and animal bone ornaments, and detail-rich painted ceramics. Beneath the Surface runs from February 7, 2015 to November 1 , 2015.

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