Technical study of artifacts from Precolumbian Panama
Metalworking technology, originating in the Andean region of South America, spread through the Isthmian region at the beginning of the Common Era. By the latter half of the first millennium CE, a regional craft practice had emerged, characterized by aesthetically refined, technically complex goldwork. This research project, initiated by the Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City, centers on goldwork from Precolumbian Panama, looking specifically at technological aspects of objects; these include metal composition and techniques of fabrication, both for unique pieces and for mass produced items such as beads. Data from well-provenienced objects – i.e., from scientifically excavated sites – are being used to define possible geographical and temporal patterns in metalworking technology. Complementing others' scholarly work from art historical and archaeological perspectives, these technical findings will contribute to a better understanding of the history of Isthmian metalworking, and may be useful in attributing cultural/regional affiliation and time period to objects that lack provenience, primarily those in museum collections. Issues of local manufacture vs. trade and the exploitation of native materials are also being considered, with some examination of goldworking trends in Panama vs. in other centers in Central and South America for comparison. Well-provenienced finds in the dataset come from the Panamanian archaeological sites of Cerro Juan Díaz (Los Santos), El Caño (Coclé), and Isla Pedro González (Pearl Islands), as well as additional sites represented by a small percentage of artifacts in several large museum collections included in the study. The museum collections of Panamanian goldwork in the study come from the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and National Museum of Natural History, both in Washington, DC, as well as the Museo Antropológico Reina Torres de Araúz, in Panama City, Panama. To view the full collection, click on the Goldworking in Precolumbian Panama link below.
Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and National Museum of Natural History, both in Washington, DC, as well as Museo Antropológico Reina Torres de Araúz, in Panama City, Panama