The figure on this pendant has been identified as the crocodile god, one of the oldest and most widespread deities among the Pre-Columbian peoples of Costa Rica and Panama. The god is usually rendered with an anthropomorphic body with prominent rectilinear shoulders and curved arms. The figure holds an unidentified object in each hand. The head is a stylized and conventionalized crocodile head, complete with an open mouth, long teeth, and curling snout. As is common with figures from the Veraguas area, two serpentine forms with triangular additions extend from the head to either side, terminating in profile saurian heads, perhaps representing a headdress. These extensions are reinforced with additional bands on either side. The figure is unadorned except for a belt, earrings, and the elaborate headdress. The fingers and other details were created using a false-filigree, a technique derived from a lost-wax casting.
Gold was mainly extracted from rivers in the Panama isthmus. The small nuggets or dust contain other materials, like copper or silver, in a natural combination present in the ores from which they were washed. Melting this metal results in tumbaga, an unintentional alloy that was confused with pure gold by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century because of its color and external appearance. This tumbaga pendant was made with a lost wax cast technique, a very common way to fabricate metal objects in the Lower Central America area. The ability to manipulate beeswax to the minimum details in order to model the figure that will be cast in metal, combined with the proper handling of smelting techniques, give the Veraguas smiths the capacity to produce such impressive pieces as this one.
Benson, Elizabeth P. 1963 Handbook of the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 49, cat. 270.
Bliss, Robert Woods 1957 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, New York. p. 266, cat. 244, pl. CIV.
Bliss, Robert Woods 1959 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. 2nd ed. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, London. p. 274, cat. 244, pl. CIV.
Bühl, Gudrun (ED.) 2008 Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 248-9.
Lothrop, Samuel K. 1950 Archaeology of Southern Veraguas, Panama. With Appendices by W. C. Root, Eleanor B. Adams and Doris Stone. Memoirs of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Vol. 9, No. 3. The Peabody Museum, Cambridge. fig. 106d.
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, July 1954 to July 1962.
Acquired in David, Panama, by Nicholas J. Bielenberg, Deer Lodge Valley MT (collector), 1911
Inherit by her daughter Alma M. Higgins, Butte MT (collector), 1927-1954
Purchased from Alma M. Higgins, Butte MT (collector), by Robert Woods Bliss, March 3, 1954
Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1954-1962
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.