Review of ‘Beneath the Surface: Life, Death, and Gold in Ancient Panama’ at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

March 18, 2015 9:25 PM

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Review of ‘Beneath the Surface: Life, Death, and Gold in Ancient Panama’ at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Regarded as humble and soft-spoken, the University of Pennsylvania archaeologist J. Alden Mason (1885-1967) groused privately when his 1940 expedition to Panama’s Sitio Conte stalled. “Work somewhat delayed for want of shovels; comfort impeded for lack of chairs, benches, tables, etc.,” he confided in his journal in January of that year.

But just two weeks later, Mason announced the dig’s “first good polychrome pot.” By early April, his mood had turned exultant: His team was unearthing a three-layered tomb (“Burial 11”) containing the remains of 23 people, a great hoard of gold, and other artifacts associated with an elite burial—“o...

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