Continuing our discussion of the presentations from our Panama workshop, let’s turn to some of the different assemblages that were explored:
Careful analysis of anthropomorphic figures has revealed distinctive ‘styles’ of Muisca metallurgists. (Museo del Oro, Banco de la República; Fotos: Clark M. Rodríguez)
On the afternoon of Monday, January 26, María Alicia Uribe and Juan Pablo Quintero (both from the Museo del Oro, Bogotá) described their analysis of an elaborate tumbaga model of a balsa raft from Cerro La Campana in Pasca, Colombia. The raft depicts a central figure (left photo)—potentially a cacique—surrounded by attendants (center and right photos), a scene that does have analogues in other Muisca metal objects, and reveals a variety of technological traces.
A range of Nahuange nose ornaments (Colección Museo del Oro, Fotografía: Clark Manuel Rodríguez)
Juanita Sáenz (Museo del Oro, Bogotá) discussed metalwork from the Nahuange period (200 BC – AD 900) from La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia. Metallurgy from this area seems to have drawn on local sources of copper and gold, producing forms that may be early instantiations of objects ascribed to the International Style associated with the region of Central America and Colombia.
Study of ceramics from sites in Pacific Nicaragua suggests interaction with Honduras rather than, as previously thought, with central Mexico, as Geoff McCafferty (University of Calgary) proposed. On the surface, one ware that was recovered—Vallejo Polychrome—does bear similarities to Mixteca-Puebla-style ceramics, and compositionally it remains a mystery, anomalous among ceramics made locally and in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica.
Bedrock structures and stone sculpture comprise some of the materials identified at Aguas Buenas. (Images courtesy of Alex Geurds; center and right image permission from Museo Arqueológico Gregorio Aguilar Barea)
Our focus shifted towards Central Nicaragua, thanks to Alex Geurds (University of Leiden), where a different set of ceramic phases is employed to date associated materials. Research has focused on Aguas Buenas where semi-circular arrangements of structures made from bedrock have been identified. By AD 1200, settlers in Central Nicaragua had developed more intensive relationships with Pacific communities, as indexed by the incorporation of Pacific ceramics.
The production of ‘Ulúa marble vases’ like the one above may have centered around Travesía, Honduras but the vases—distributed into Costa Rica and into the Maya lowlands—are indices of Honduran involvement in a wide geographic network (PC.B.651, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection)
The utility of ceramics to understanding social and political relationships was brought to the fore further through a presentation by Rosemary Joyce (UC Berkeley) on a specific type called Las Vegas Polychrome, named after the Honduran site of Las Vegas. While previously, these ceramics—with painted motifs and a white slip (a mixture of clay and water)—were poorly contextualized, it is now evident that there were antecedents to white-slipped polychrome ceramics in Honduras (before AD 900) and that Las Vegas potters began producing their own corpus as a way to contest the power of communities like Tenampua already making similar ceramics.
An in-situ stone sphere, associated with a stone ramp, from the 2007 excavations of the site of Finca 6 in Costa Rica (Image provided by the National Museum of Costa Rica).
Francisco Corrales (Museo Nacional de Costa Rica) discussed the acquisition of UNESCO World Heritage status for particular sites in Costa Rica where large stone spheres have been recovered, such as Finca 6, Batambal, and El Silencio. In some cases, these spheres have been found in alignments and they are often associated with plazas and circular mounds. While seasonal flooding and agriculture have disturbed archaeological depositions, UNESCO has recommended in its report that the managers of the international airport and the hydroelectric dam that encroach on these sites strongly monitor the adverse impacts of this infrastructure.
Research by Patricia Fernández (Universidad de Costa Rica), whose presentation was delivered by Silvia Salgado (Universidad de Costa Rica), has explored metal technology in Costa Rica. She compared the compositions of objects made of gold, silver, and copper to that of gold nuggets and found significantly higher copper content in the objects, suggesting that metalworkers were intentionally alloying (combining) copper and gold (with silver inherent) from different sources. The addition of copper can help to lower the melting point of the resulting metal, thereby facilitating casting operations.