Did the ancients hunt for pearls in Panama?

Surfer's ear, bony bumps in ear canal. Male skulls from Cerro Juan Díaz, Panama site. Feature 3.2 (AD 350-600). Credit: Raiza Segundo, STRI

Surfer's ear, bony bumps in ear canal. Male skulls from Cerro Juan Díaz, Panama site. Feature 3.2 (AD 350-600). Credit: Raiza Segundo, STRI

While examining a skull from an ancient burial ground in a pre-Columbian village in Panama, Nicole Smith-Guzmán, bioarchaeologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), was surprised to discover an example of surfers' ear: a small, bony bump in the ear canal common among surfers, kayakers and free divers in cold climates. After inspecting more skulls, she concluded that a select group of male divers -- perhaps looking for pearls and oyster shells coveted for jewelry making, may have lived along Panama's Pacific coast long ago.


We think it more likely that diving in the cold waters of the Gulf caused these cases of surfer's ear," Smith-Guzmán said. "Silvery mother-of-pearl ornaments, and orange and purple ones from two large 'thorny' oysters in the Spondylus genus were common in burials and comprised an important trade item in the region. Some of these shells wash up on beaches, but by the time Vasco Nuñez de Balboa and other Spanish explorers arrived, their chronicles tell us that expert divers were trained from childhood to dive down to four fathoms to retrieve pearl oysters of desirable large size."

The Spanish encouraged this industry and for many years, Panama was known for its pirates and pearls, including La Peregrina, the largest pearl known at the time it was found.

Read entire article here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/12/181221142503.htm

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