Effigy Pendant, Coclé Culture, Panama, Late Classic, 700–900 CE
Gold, 5 ½ x 4 x 1 ½ inches (14 x 10.2 x 3.8 cm)
Jay I. Kislak Collection of the Early Americas, Exploration and Navigation, MDC PC 2018.1.7
Among the extraordinary accomplishments of metallurgy in the Early Americas, those of the Coclé culture of Panama stand out. As the Metropolitan Museum of Art points out in reference to a similar pendant in its collection, “Goldworking technologies—including hammering, alloying, annealing, gilding, and casting—are believed to have come to Central America from the Andean region of South America around AD 700. The majority of works from the area of the Isthmus of Panama were cast, and the most frequent form was the effigy pendant. These were produced in various animal and human forms, or combinations thereof, and were worn suspended from the neck by a thong or cord.”
The composite beasts of Coclé effigy pendants mixed avian and saurian elements with imaginative figures of gods. This gold pendant is composed of two tusks that curve upwards at the ends, surmounted by a pair of ferocious zoomorphic heads of gods facing left and right, with bulbous eyes, open jaws, and sharp triangular teeth. Emerging from the mouth of each god’s head is a long, curving serpent with a curled snout, while between them are three snake heads in the shape of a W. The back of the pendant is as complete as the front. The bold hollow casting of this object, weighing 363 grams, shows the excellent technique of a master artist, with its delicate open-work curved and curled designs around the heads and the serpents.
The shimmering light of gold, the undimmable gleaming metal that comes from the earth, was associated with the sun, which lights the world and stands as a major deity in almost all ancient cultures. All life needs sunlight to survive, and the movement of the sun determines the cycles of life. While we may not know the specific meanings of the creatures and their relationships in the complex and beautiful gold design of this pendant, it would likely have been worn by a figure of great importance, perhaps a priest or noble.
The small but extraordinarily detailed effigy pendants, along with other elaborate jewellike objects, have been unearthed mainly in burials and are associated with death-cult rituals, mythological creatures, and a rich heritage of producing essential luxuries for the elite, dead and alive. “Similar objects have been excavated from elaborate burials at the archaeological sites of El Caño and Sitio Conte in the Coclé Province of Panama. Deceased chiefs were covered in fine gold ornaments, including decorated plaques, pendants, ear rods, embossed cuffs for wrists and ankles, and many strands of gold beads. Some of these gold ornaments included other precious materials, including greenstone, emerald, and sperm whale tooth. As many as twenty-five individuals would have accompanied the principal occupant of the tomb into the afterlife.”
 “Double Crocodile Pendant, Coclé (Macaracas), 8th–12th century,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Collection, © 2000–2024, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/316677.
Exhibited: Culture and Change in the Early Americas, Kislak Center, Miami Dade College, May 20, 2018–January 31, 2021.
Photos by Lynton Gardiner. © Kislak Center at MDC.