Burial 11, the resting place of a paramount chief and his retinue, was the most important of the approximately 40 burials and caches excavated by J. Alden Mason’s team in 1940. The previous excavations of the site by the Peabody Museum included 59 burials and 38 caches.
The upper level of Burial 11 included a scattering of gold items, and relatively little pottery. A necklace of gold bells was also found although, most of the offerings in this level were agate pendants and stone projectile points and celts. The stone tools discovered here may indicate the occupations of members of the commoner or non-elite class, perhaps the men who dug the burial pit or warriors or servants to accompany the main burial that was placed below.
Both Sitio Conte goldwork and polychrome pottery are frequently decorated with animal motifs that reflect the great diversity of species in central Panama: iguanas, crocodiles, lizards, snakes, bats, fish, turtles, frogs, stingrays, crabs, sharks, and birds. This emerald-set pendant (on right), from the middle level of Burial 11, represents a composite creature with pointed ears, double tongues, bulging eyes, and an upturned snout, features associated with several animals, including the jaguar, crocodile, and bat. The single most famous object from the site, this pendant was indicative of the high status and prestige of the paramount chief.
The lower level of Burial 11 included a few gold items, including one large embossed gold plaque, a bat pendant, and several ear rods, as well as pottery vessels and stone celts. Based on an analogy with burial customs recorded by the Spanish in the sixteenth century, the individuals buried in this level were probably members of the elite class, perhaps çabras or warrior captives taken in battle and sacrificed to accompany the main burial that was placed above them.
Image Top: Embossed gold plaque. Sitio Conte, ca. 700–900 ce. 8.7 x 7.8 in. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, PA (40-13-11). Bottom Right: Cast-gold composite animal effigy pendant. Sitio Conte, ca. 700–900 ce. 1.6 x 4.9 x 1.9 in. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, PA (40-13-27) Photos: Penn Museum.