Exhibitions: Life, Death, and Transformation in the Americas

Plaque with Crocodile Deity

In Panama the Crocodile God was the principal deity for more than a thousand years and was most likely associated with strength, the sun and water, and fertility. The ruling elite probably wore prestige ornaments such as this one in order to appropriate the power of crocodiles, fierce animals connected to the underworld since they float on water and drag their prey below to drown it. On this plaque the crocodilian being may be a creator god or a transformative image of the wearer. Smaller crocodiles surround the central figure, and the triangular border design simulates the animal’s protective ridgelike scales. The small holes around the border were probably used to attach the ornament to clothing.