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100 Highlights
of the MFAH
Take a tour through some of the most significant objects in the MFAH collections. On these pages, you can browse 100 highlights from collections throughout the institution. Then visit the Museum in person to discover your own favorites.
Disk Pectoral with Sun Deity

6 1/8 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Alfred C. Glassell, Jr.

Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, & the Americas

Arts of Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean
The Glassell Collections of African, Indonesian & Pre-Columbian Gold

The exotic deity depicted on this pectoral, or chest adornment, possesses both human and animal qualities. It may be an image of the supreme Coclé deity, the Sun God. The torso is human, but the wide mouth displays sharp teeth. The feet and hands end in long, fierce claws. The bodies of stylized sharks, identified by their pointed heads and angular fins, extend from each side of the Sun God’s waist. The projections from the top of the head may represent an iguana’s crest.

The Coclé culture flourished from about 300 to 1550 along the central Pacific coast of present-day Panama. They are most famous for creating large, hammered and repoussé gold pectorals depicting mythological human figures with crocodile, shark, and iguana features and clawed hands and feet. These figures may represent deities or ancient ancestors. Only chiefs, who were also shamans, wore such pendants and pectorals. Gold, believed to be made from the sun, had spiritual meaning, power, and energy. Wearing elaborate gold ornaments associated shaman chiefs with this supernatural force.

Iguanas are large, easily tamed, tree-dwelling lizards with multiple sharp teeth and spikes running the length of their spines.
© Chris Shaw