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Ancient tomb filled with gold, sacrificial victims discovered

Gold bars (Unsplash)
June 18, 2024

Archeologists recently unearthed the grave of a man believed to be a chief in the Coclé culture, the archeological name for the people who inhabited Panama over a thousand years ago.

Discovered in the El Caño Archaeological Park, the El Caño Foundation shared select images of the ongoing excavation to their Facebook page. The artifacts allow insight into the lives of the people who once lived in pre-Columbian Panama.

Among the relics, gold-covered whale teeth earrings, bracelets, belts made of gold, and gold alligator earrings have been unearthed. The excavation also uncovered the bodies of 31 other individuals. Researchers believe the bodies may have been sacrificed to accompany the chief in death.

Dr. Julia Mayo, foundation director and excavation leader, noted that the chief had been buried face-down. Mayo stated that it was typical in this type of burial for the high-ranking person to be buried face-down on top of his female companion, according to CBS news.

While archeologists have engaged in digs throughout the park since 2008, exploration of this site, a known ceremonial and burial ground, began in 2022. The tomb is believed to be dated around A.D. 750-800.

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“El Caño was the scene of lavish funerals with a complex liturgy that included human sacrifice, and whose ultimate goal was the worship of ancestors and the sacralization of the place,” Mayo said, according to Newsweek.

El Caño was first discovered in 1925 by American explorer Hyatt Verrill, who found three graves in the region. Verrill reported the discovery; however, archeologists were focused on conducting research in the Sitio Conte area.

Study of the El Caño region began in earnest in the 1970s, before excavation was abandoned after archeologists discovered only 16 graves without any large discoveries of gold or artifacts similar to those found in the Sitio Conte digs.

It was Mayo’s determination that led her to conduct an electrical survey of the area in 2005. Imagery disclosed a circular area of suspected burial grounds approximately 250 feet in diameter. The first excavation of the site was initiated in 2008, yielding the discovery of a warrior buried with a gold breastplate.

In 2011, another discovery was made of what is believed to be a warrior chief of the El Caño culture, buried with multiple gold artifacts as well as 25 individuals who might have been sacrificial victims.

Following the discovery of a larger tomb, excavation, study, and survey of the site are expected to continue.