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In a grassy, sun-parched field in central Panama, gold was coming out of the ground so fast that archaeologist Julia Mayo was tempted to yell, Stop, stop! For years she had been working for this moment, waiting for it, but now she was overwhelmed.
Determined to uncover new evidence of the ancient society she had been studying since graduate school, Mayo and her team began geophysical surveys in 2005 at a site known as El Caño, named for a waterfall on one of the area's many rivers. The results identified a circle of long-forgotten graves. By 2010 she and her team had dug a pit 16 feet deep and discovered the remains of a warrior chieftain bedecked in gold—two embossed breastplates, four arm cuffs, a bracelet of bells, a belt of hollow gold beads as plump as olives, more than 2,000 tiny spheres arranged as if once sewn to a sash, and hundreds of tubular beads tracing a zigzag pattern on a lower leg. That alone would be the find of a lifetime, but it was just the beginning. Mayo had struck a lode of treasure.
The team returned last year during the January-to-April dry season and unearthed a second burial every bit as rich as the first. Bearing two gold breastplates in front, two in back, four arm cuffs, and a luminous emerald, the deceased was surely another supreme chief. Near him lay a baby similarly adorned in gold, most likely his son. Beneath both of them stretched a layer of tangled human skeletons, possibly sacrificed slaves or war captives. Radiocarbon tests would date the burials to about A.D. 900—the era when the Maya civilization, some 800 miles to the northwest, was beginning to unravel.
In his 1937 report Harvard archaeologist Samuel Lothrop identified the Sitio Conte people as one of the native groups the Spanish had encountered when they invaded Panama in the early 1500s. As the conquistadores marched across the isthmus, they wrote detailed chronicles of their progress. In the Sitio Conte region they found small, belligerent communities vying for control of the savannas, forests, rivers, and coastal waters. Their warrior chiefs covered themselves in gold to proclaim their rank as they fought each other and the Spanish. The conquistadores accumulated a fortune in gold for the royal coffers back in Seville as they defeated chief after chief. From one funeral alone they plundered 355 pounds of gold, including jewelry that they tore from the bodies of three chiefs who had been mummified over a smoking fire after falling in battle.
Specialists at the Smithsonian Institution are analyzing the array of materials Mayo's team has unearthed and have already made a major discovery. Natural impurities in the gold indicate that the metal was mined and worked in the region. This firmly puts to rest any debate about whether Panama's treasures were imported from farther south, where cultures were supposedly older and more advanced. The native people in this area may have lived in simple huts, but they were rich enough to support master craftsmen and sophisticated enough to appreciate fine art.
Originally posted by anon72
I find it interesting that they knew the importance of Gold back then. Just seems odd to have put so much time into the metal when they needed to improve the living conditions first and foremost. Same as in Egypt, IMO.
Originally posted by Omphale
One or two scholars of late, have put forward the idea that the reason we started burying our dead with gold objects was to increase it's value monetarily.
Originally posted by Byrd
This isn't a theory by archaeologists or anthropologists because the amount of gold buried is actually fairly insignificant compared to the amount that's around. In addition, gold wasn't valued by all ancient societies (the Native Americans of California didn't revere it.)
Originally posted by Byrd
Items of great status are buried with people of great status -- things like jade axes, certain animals, beautiful jewelry, beautifully chipped flints, and high quality pottery are offerings buried with a high chief. Poor people mostly got buried with whatever they had that nobody wanted.
Scientists believe they have evidence that the Earth's reserves of precious metals, including gold and platinum, which have underpinned the world's economies for millennia and which are used to make everything from jewellery to computer parts, are the result of meteorite strikes up to 200 million years after the planet was formed. Analysing four-billion-year-old rocks from Greenland, experts from the University of Bristol believe they have found the "fingerprints" of huge meteorite bombardments which created the deposits that are mined today.