A recent dig in Central America revealed new clues to the unnamed civilization that archaeologists simply call "the golden chief's culture." In the newly excavated tombs, National Geographic reports, archeologists found 1,000-year-old gold, gems and "hints of pufferfish murder."
These finds at El Caño are the first of the central Panama culture since a nearby site, Sitio Conte, was excavated in the 1930s. National Geographic reports that El Caño had interested treasure hunters before, but they only found graves of commoners.
According to National Geographic, archaeologist Julia Mayo with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute began conducting ground surveys of the site in 2005 and began finding a pattern of circular burials. In 2008, the archeologist's team uncovered the tomb of a chief and a more recent second tomb discovery has led to more clues.
National Geographic has more:
The most recent dig, in early 2011, uncovered a similarly adorned chief in a multilevel burial pit once sheltered by a wooden roof. Surrounding this golden chief are at least 25 carefully arranged bodies, making the assemblage the largest of the six El Caño burials revealed to date, according to Mayo, who received funding from the Panamanian government as well as the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration and Expeditions Council. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)
At the bottom of the pit, the chief himself was supported by a sort of platform created from the tight arrangement of 15 bodies.
Mayo believes the extra bodies were either sacrifice or suicide, but an interesting clue showed up that could allude to sacrifice and murder. National Geographic reports that the bones of a pufferfish, "a very poisonous fish", were found in the tomb. She also notes that the extra bodies had pieces of plates face down on their chests; a similar practice was reported at Sitio Conte.
John Hoopes, an anthropologist from the University of Kansas, is reported as saying the two groups -- Sitio Conte and El Caño -- should be considered separate civilizations. Thus far, Hoopes considers this dig the most significant find to date for this civilization. National Geographic reports that very little historical record has been found and Hoopes attributes this in part to early invasion by the Spanish.
In addition to gold and precious jewels, Mayo reports finding axes, stingray spines and a belt made of whale, all of which she hopes will continue to shed light on the civilization. Archaeology News Network reports Mayo as saying she there are about 20 more tombs to excavate. Given that it has taken her team four years to uncover two graves, at this rate it would be nearly 200 more years before all graves had been thoroughly searched, according to Archeology News.