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Famous discovery of ancient gold and ceramics to make only Canadian appearance at the Gardiner Museum

6 years ago

Beneath the Surface: Life, Death, Gold and Ceramics in Ancient Panama
February 18 to May 29, 2016

Toronto, ON January 28, 2016—For more than a thousand years, a cemetery on the banks of the Rio Grande de Coclé in Panama lay undisturbed, unlike most in the region, escaping the attention of gold seekers and looters. In 1927, the river flooded, setting the scene for one of the richest discoveries in the history of American archaeology.

In 1940, a Penn Museum team led by J. Alden Mason excavated at the cemetery, revealing the single largest grouping of grave goods ever unearthed in Panama—golden plaques and pendants with animal-human motifs, precious and semi-precious stones, animal bone ornaments, and literally tons of detail-rich painted ceramics.

Beneath the Surface: Life, Death, Gold and Ceramics in Ancient Panama immerses visitors in the history of the original excavation, and introduces them to the Coclé people, a complex and mysterious society that disappeared approximately 1,000 years ago and left no written language.

“Beyond their incredible artistic and historical value, the objects in the exhibition create a picture of the past, and the beliefs and values of the people who created them,” says Siobhan Boyd, a practicing archaeologist and adjunct curator at the Gardiner Museum. “The exquisite metalwork and ceramic vessels, beautifully ornamented with human effigies, snakes, turtles, and unique hybrid creatures, offer insight into the skill and imagination of the Coclé people.”

The centrepiece of the show is a three-tiered recreation of the cemetery’s wealthiest and most important burial site, referred to as “Burial 11”, where Mason’s team encountered the remains of at least 23 people, including the so-called “Paramount Chief”, a powerful ruler and war leader in the Coclé region. The discovery has been compared to King Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt.

The recreation features artifacts displayed in their original positions flanked by interactive touchscreens allowing for further exploration. The expedition itself, which was state of the art for its time, is brought to life through photographs, archaeological tools, sketches, field diaries, and rare colour motion-picture footage of the dig, all part of Chief Curator Clark Erickson’s approach to “peopling the past.”

The exhibition is travelling from Penn Museum, one of the world’s great archaeology and anthropology research museums, and the largest university museum in the United States.

Beneath the Surface was nominated for Best Ancient Art Exhibit at the Global Fine Art Awards in a category that included the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Hermitage Museum, and the Getty Museum. The Gardiner Museum is its only Canadian destination.

For more information on the exhibition, visit www.gardinermuseum.com/exhibition/beneath-the-surface.

Media wishing to view the exhibition, speak to the curators, or obtain high resolution images are invited to contact Rachel Weiner, Communications Coordinator, at rachelw@gardinermuseum or 416.408.5062.


The Search for Kings and Queens in Ancient Panama
Speaker: James Doyle, Assistant Curator for the Art of the Ancient Americas, Metropolitan Museum of Art Tuesday February 16, 7 pm
Burials of rulers in ancient Panama are among the richest and most elaborate entombments in the ancient Americas. James Doyle proposes a new reading of the archaeological and art-historical evidence found at burial sites such as Sitio Conte, El Caño, and Venado Beach, Panama.
$15 General | $10 Gardiner Friends

Guna Art Today: An Artist Talk by Oswaldo DeLeón Kantule
Thursday March 24, 6:30 pm
Like traditional Guna artists, Oswaldo DeLeón Kantule is inspired by his natural, human, and spiritual environment. His process is one of fusion: combining the sacred symbols found in Guna pictographs, traditional rites, and ceremonies with those found in other indigenous cultures, as well as in urban culture, recodifying them to create his own visual language. This talk will focus on the traditional elements of Guna art and how they are fused with contemporary symbols to communicate the artist’s message.
$15 General | $10 Gardiner Friends

Beyond Indiana Jones: Archaeologies of the Past, Present, and Future
Speaker: Dr. Andy Roddick, Assistant Professor of Anthropology,McMaster University
Thursday April 21, 6:30 pm
Dr. Andy Roddick will discuss his work as an archaeologist in the altiplano, or high Andean planes of Bolivia and Peru. This is a region that evokes many of the myths of archaeology—myths which continue to haunt practicing archaeologists in the region today. In this talk, Roddick will break down some of these misconceptions, presenting the realities of contemporary archaeological practice.
$15 General | $10 Gardiner Friends

Dark Arts: Coffee & Chocolate Tasting
Thursday May 12, 7 pm
Explore the tastes and smells of cacao and coffee as you learn about the importance of these two products and their significance in Latin American culture with our partners at ChocoSol, who focus on artisanal, equitably sourced cacao. Toast, peel, grind, drink, smell, and taste your way through the process of turning raw cacao into chocolate.
$30 General

The Spectrum of Power: Colour Symbolism and the Ancient Maya
David Pendergast, Archaeologist, Former curator and Vice President for Collections and Research at the Royal Ontario Museum
Wednesday May 18, 6:30 pm
Employing objects from the ROM and other excavations, Dr. Pendergast will explore the colourful world of the Maya and the meaning embodied in many elements of the ancient society’s hugely rich material culture.
$15 General | $10 Gardiner Friends


Located in the heart of Toronto at 111 Queen’s Park Crescent, the Gardiner Museum is Canada’s only ceramics museum, and one of the world’s great specialty museums. The Gardiner is committed to making a contribution to the medium of ceramics, as well as the community it serves, and is an inviting destination that inspires and connects people, art and ideas through clay.

The Gardiner’s permanent collection comprises several extraordinary collections from sophisticated, dedicated collectors, making it one of the most significant centres of ceramics in North America. The breadth of the Museum’s holdings include pottery from the Ancient Americas, rare examples of Meissen, Du Paquier and Chelsea porcelain, Chinese blue and white porcelain, Japanese and Japanese-inspired porcelain, to contemporary ceramics—including an exceptional donation from contemporary ceramics collector, Raphael Yu. For more information, details on exhibitions, events, workshops, clay classes, and more, please visit: www.gardinermuseum.com.

For media inquiries, please contact:

Rachel Weiner
Communications Coordinator
Gardiner Museum

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