Archaeologists In Panama Uncover 1,300-Year-Old Tomb Of A Man Buried On Top Of Woman Surrounded By Gold

Published March 5, 2024
Updated March 6, 2024

The burial contained the remains of a man placed face-down on top of the remains of a woman — a common practice among societies who buried their dead in this area at the time.

Panama Tomb

Ministerio de Cultura de PanamáAlongside multiple skeletons, archaeologists uncovered a wealth of treasures inside the tomb.

Archaeologists working at El Caño Archaeological Park in Panama’s Coclé province just made an astonishing discovery: a pre-Hispanic tomb containing a man buried face-down on top of a woman, as well as multiple sacrifice victims.

Now, based on the wealth of gold artifacts found within the tomb, researchers have determined that the man was likely a person of influence, buried around the year 750 C.E.

Discovering The Tomb

Archaeologists Working On Tomb

Ministerio de Cultura de PanamáThe archaeological team working on the tomb.

According to a press release from Panama’s Ministry of Culture, excavation of the site began as part of a larger project to develop the El Caño Archaeological Park in 2022.

Known as Tomb No. 9, the burial contained several items of meant to accompany the dead to the afterlife.

In total, this funerary trousseau included five pectorals, two belts made of gold beads, four bracelets, two earrings in the shape of a man and a woman, an earring in the shape of a “double crocodile,” one necklace made of small circular beads, five earrings made with sperm whale teeth with gold covers, a set of circular gold plates, a pair of bells, bracelets and skirts made from dog teeth, and a set of bone flutes.

Dr. Julia Mayo, director of the El Caño Foundation and head of the excavations in the park, stated in the press release that this collection likely belonged to a high-status adult male from the pre-Hispanic chiefdom of the Río Grande.

Amid this treasure, researchers identified the bodies of a male and female. According to Dr. Mayo, the remains of the man found were placed face-down on top of the woman — a common practice among this society.

While researchers are still excavating the site, they say it also contains the remains of several people who were sacrificed to accompany the lord into the “beyond.”

The Panamanian Burial Tradition

Panama Tomb Artifacts

Ministerio de Cultura de PanamáBased on the number of gold artifacts buried inside the tomb, researchers believe it contained a pre-Hispanic lord.

Built around 700 C.E. and abandoned by 1000 C.E., the site at El Caño was a necropolis used for funerary purposes. Alongside the burials, the site contains several stone monoliths and a ceremonial area made up of wooden structures.

Dr. Mayo says Tomb No. 9 is significant because it is a case of “multiple and simultaneous burials,” so-called because they involve the burial of several people in the same tomb. While researchers don’t know exactly how many people the tomb contains, they suspect the lord was buried alongside 7 to 31 lower-status people who were “sacrificed to serve as companions” in the afterlife.

Now, archaeologists are hopeful that the site will reveal further information about the lives of social elites in pre-Hispanic Panama.

After reading about the discovery of this tomb in Panama, discover the history of human sacrifice in pre-Columbian America. Then, read about the history of the Lovers of Valdaro, the Stone-Age skeletons locked in an eternal embrace.

Amber Breese
Amber Breese is an Editorial Fellow for All That's Interesting. She graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in political science, history, and Russian. Previously, she worked as a content creator for America House Kyiv, a Ukrainian organization focused on inspiring and engaging youth through cultural exchanges.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.