Overall: 25.1 x 26.7 cm (9 7/8 x 10 1/2 in.)
Gift of Mrs. R. Henry Norweb, Mrs. Albert S. Ingalls, with additions from the John L. Severance Fund 1952.459
Find spot: Sitio Conte, Panama
Panning for gold was viewed as a sacred activity among the ancient inhabitants of Costa Rica and Panama.
Harvard archaeologists excavated this and seven other ornaments from several burials at Sitio Conte, a cemetery famous for its lavish graves of powerful chieftains. The young man buried in Grave 26 was such a chief. His status was stunningly memorialized by 21 human companions and 475 objects, many of them personal ornaments made of gold, including a large chest plaque and a rod-shaped ear ornament. The creature on the chest plaque, found close to the chief’s body, has reptile claws and perhaps the head crest of an iguana. Its meaning is unknown but perhaps, as in later periods, reptilian imagery and the warm gleam of gold linked rulers with the sun’s creative force.
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