Sitio Conte

Sitio Conte is situated on a flat coastal plain on the Isthmus of Panama about 100 miles southwest of modern Panama City, and ten miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. The archeological site lies beneath six acres of grasslands along the banks of the Río Grande de Coclé, one of many rivers that flow down the slopes of the western sierras and across the plains to the coastal bays of the Gulf of Panama. 

In contrast to the vast corpus of research associated with the Aztec and Mayan cultures, relatively little is known about the identity of the people who used Sitio Conte as a burial site. Much of the information about the region and its ancient past derives from the accounts of Spanish explorers and settlers in the sixteenth century. The excavations at Sitio Conte do shed light, however, on the importance of the manufacture and use of gold by the indigenous ancient people of the Panamanian peninsula.  The precious metal was essential to the chiefdoms and served as a symbol of status, especially for the paramount chiefs and leaders.

Recent excavations at El Caño, two miles from Sitio Conte, have revealed additional burial sites.  These more recently discovered burials, which include gold and other artifacts, date from ca. 700–1000 ce and would have overlapped with the later Sitio Conte burials.  The El Caño excavations (2008 to the present) have revealed additional information about the so-called “golden chiefs” of Panama.  There may be potential links between the two sites in terms of the burial arrangements; both sites are also marked by ancient monoliths.