Are these images of identifiable pre-Columbian mythic entities?

This is the front and back of a t-shirt that was bought in Colombia. Stylistically to my naive layman eyes, they both look consistent with a modern riff on Muisca or Tairona art. Are they identifiable entities in known pre-Columbian mythology? Or are they tourist trap nonsense? (even so, one would think it might have been easier to copy a pre-existing image):



Mythology & Folklore Asked on August 29, 2021

1 Answers

One Answer

These are, conclusively, Coclé, but the culture appears to be very similar to Tairona.

It appears that these images are near-perfect replicas of the imagery on two Gran Coclé plaques. What appears to be the same entity as the first image is identified here as a "sun deity" and here as a "crocodile god". Cooke and Bray (ref 1) identify this as a "saurian-human figure", and note that Helms (ref 2) makes a strong case that the animals are iguanas. I have unfortunately not been able to find a copy of that paper.

In any case, the two specific images are conclusively from artifacts found at sitio Conte, which are currently at Penn Museum: the saurian-human plaque and the bird figures plaque. saurian plaque bird plaque

In researching this, I was surprised how similar Tairona art was to precolumbian Panamanian artefacts. Compare, for example these Tairona "twins" (photo: WERNER FORMAN/GTRES, from this National Geographic article): Tairona twins

vs these from the other end of Panama (from Cooke, Bray, ibid., p. 38): Chiriqui twins


  1. Cooke, Richard G. and Bray, Warwick. "The Goldwork of Panama: an Iconographic and Chronological Perspective." The Art of Precolumbian Gold, 1985, p.39.

  2. Helms, Mary W. "Iguanas and Crocodilians in Tropical American Mythology and Iconography with special reference to Panama". Journal of Latin American Lore 3(1): 51-132, 1977

Correct answer by David on August 29, 2021

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