To Capture the Sun: Gold of Ancient Panama” explores Gilcrease Museum’s unique holding of pre-Columbian gold and related ritual ceramics in the largest display of these objects since their acquisition by Thomas Gilcrease in the 1940s.

The exhibition, which runs through January 15, 2012 in the Getty Gallery, showcases artifacts originally used in the ritual practices of the people of Gran Coclé. The exhibition includes more than 200 items – gold artifacts used as personal adornments and symbols of authority for social, political, and religious elites. A portion of the exhibit examines the rise of metallurgy in the Western Hemisphere and the role that the creation and use of gold ornaments played in the complex cultural networks of early central Panama.

Visitors will discover the complex methods of lost wax casting and the creation of gold-copper tumbaga alloys that became signature processes in the region. The exhibition explores the making of gold objects and the role that these processes served in maintaining and enhancing connections with the cosmic forces of ancient belief.

Also revealed is the symbolic and economic significance of gold in the region from pre-Columbian times through the Spanish Conquest, as well as the influence of pre-Columbian gold on the world economies of today.

Archaeologists use the term Gran Coclé to refer to the culture area of ancient Central America that extends geographically from the Bay of Parita to the headwaters of the Rio Grande de Coclé in central Panama. The early inhabitants of this region lived along the inland river flood plains where an increasingly significant number of chiefdoms emerged during the first millennia of the Common Era.

Across generations of human interaction and expanding populations, these chiefdoms developed unique systems of regional governance, intricately stratified social systems and complex forms of religious belief.

Over the course of two centuries - from around 700 to 1500 CE  - the people of Gran Coclé practiced elaborate rituals to commemorate the passing of cultural elites. In the sanctity of underground tombs, the remains of important leaders were interred, often along with their retinue, in rites that archaeologists believe were used to assist in the journey from this world to the next. The bodies of these elites were adorned with intricate gold jewelry – incised plaques, finely-worked arm bands and bracelets, necklaces, as well as an assortment of human and animal effigy pins and pendants that had previously marked a given leader’s station in life. The burials included the careful placement of ornately decorated ceramic bowls, plates and other containers used in the ongoing veneration of the dead.

“To Capture the Sun: Gold of Ancient Panama” revisits the famed early scientific excavations at Sitio Conte, where archaeologists unearthed a treasure trove of gold artifacts and polychrome ceramics in the 1930s. The exhibition presents the ongoing archaeological research in the region that continues to reveal new information on a still mysterious past, exploring these ancient societies and their use of gold not only in complex burial rites, but also as symbols of power, wealth, and privilege.

Key advisers to the exhibition include: Richard G. Cooke, Ph.D., staff scientist for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama; Nicholas J. Saunders, Ph.D., professor of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol; John W. Hoopes, Ph.D., director of the Global Indigenous Nations Studies Program at the University of Kansas; Jeffrey Quilter, Ph.D., senior lecturer in the Archaeology Department at Harvard University and Deputy Director of the Peabody Museum.


A companion book of the same name, “To Capture the Sun: Gold of Ancient Panama,” will be published in October 2011. Contributors include Cooke, Saunders, Hoopes, and Quilter, with a foreword by Duane H. King, Ph.D., Executive Director of Gilcrease Museum and TU Vice President for Museum Affairs, and an introduction by Randy Ramer, Director of Exhibitions and Publications for Gilcrease Museum.




Gilcrease Museum, located in Tulsa, Okla., is one of the country's best facilities for the preservation and study of American art and history. The museum houses the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of art and artifacts of the American West, including an unparalleled collection of Native American art and artifacts, as well as thousands of historical documents, maps and manuscripts. Gilcrease museum's charm, beauty and art collections draw thousands of visitors from around the world to the Osage Hills just northwest of downtown Tulsa for a glimpse into America’s past. The museum is owned by the City of Tulsa, which has partnered with The University of Tulsa to steward the museum.

Gilcrease Museum hours are: Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition to exceptional temporary and permanent exhibitions, the museum features themed gardens that have been developed on 23 of the museum’s 460 acres. The Restaurant at Gilcrease serves lunch Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3p.m., and offers a Sunday brunch. 


Admission is:

  • $8 for adults
  • $6 for seniors (62 and older)
  • $6 for active duty members of the U.S. military
  • $5 for college students with valid ID
  • Children 18 and under are free
  • TU Tuesday – first Tuesday of every month. Free admission.


Contact (918) 596-2700 for more information.



Office of University Relations • 800 S. Tucker Drive • Tulsa OK 74104-9700

Contact: Melani Hamilton • (918) 631-3611 •