Archaeology Magazine

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The Power of Panama's Ancient Chiefs

Thursday, June 20, 2013

panama-gold-arm-band 68433 600x450PANAMA CITY, PANAMAGold arm cuffs bearing the images of a crocodile god have helped archaeologist Julia Mayo deduce the political structure of a still-unnamed culture in Panama. When the Spanish arrived in the area in 1500s, they found the area populated by a people whose great chiefs were constantly at war with each other. But little was known about how the chiefs came to power. Mayo has been digging at a funerary pit at the site of El Caño on the Pacific coast in an effort to find out. She recently discovered the gold arm cuffs adorning the skeleton of a 12 year-old boy who had been buried near the remains of a supreme chief. She thinks the boy’s high-status burial means that he was not only the son of the chief but that he was born to rule. "One of the characteristics of complex chiefdoms is that social status is passed down from father to son," she says. Having that level of social organization means the culture was more sophisticated than archaeologists had previously believed.