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Biblical Archaeology Review 48:2, Summer 2022


This golden plaque was possibly worn as a breastplate by a pre-Columbian chief of Central America. Not much is known about the society that created this plaque, which was discovered at a necropolis at Sitio Conte, an archaeological site located in the Coclé province of Panama, near Parita Bay. The graves contained numerous individuals—whom scholars have postulated are either chiefs, warriors, or members of chiefly families—and many exquisitely crafted grave goods. The grave goods date the burial ground’s use between 450 and 900 C.E.

Measuring almost 9 inches in diameter and made of gold, the plaque dates to 700–900 C.E., toward the end of the site’s use. The gold was hammered and then embossed to create the plaque’s figure, with scratches from the artist’s work and burnishing still visible on the central triangle. While readily available, gold was reserved for the chief and his tribe.

Depicted on the plaque is an anthropomorphic figure with arms and legs outstretched; the legs end in immense claws with arms curved into hooks. With twin tails, sharp teeth, and horns or a headdress with spikes, this imposing figure would have intimidated any opponent that met the chief in battle.

This object is currently held at the Penn Museum, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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