Exhibiting Historical Art: Out of the Vault: Stories of People and Things

Significance of Gold in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica

Metal Objects first appeared on the isthmus of Panama during the first five hundred years of the Common era. The evidence suggests that Columbia as the primary source of inspiration, and the Gulf of Uraba was the initial contact point. Metal objects quickly became primary symbols of authority; important people ornamented their bodies with gold. Gold was used to bribe allies and to pay ransoms for captured family members. It was hidden prom rivals and horded in large baskets at times of danger. Gold was also buried with important people after death: they wore masks of gold, and their bodies were often covered with gold figurines. 

It is believed that these types of pendants were made using the lost wax casting technique. In this process, the artists modeled the final piece they wanted to achieve in beeswax, and once the wax figure was finished it was covered in fine clay and charcoal, leaving pouring channels. The whole mold was then fired and the melted wax poured out. In its place, the molten metal cools and solidifies, and when the mould is broken, the final metal piece is finished and polished. 

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