A Large and Important Diquis Gold Pendant c. 700-1400 AD Superbly crafted and finely detailed tumbaga. A standing shaman with the head of a crocodile with its mouth open showing teeth. A snake is held in the mouth, its braided body with a head at each end. Covering the figure's abdomen is a large human head wearing a headband, its mouth open and the protruding tongue of the head (and penis of the standing figure) is also a snake head; two similar human heads on the knees. The figure holds a braided staff to right and left with spiral ornaments on their outer side, further framed top and bottom with a flat slightly curved band, a stylized crocodile head in each corner. A loop for hanging on the back. This particular piece is an "anthropomorphic," meaning central figure possesses both animal and human features, and is in excellent condition. Stands at 4-1/2" in height and weighs 190gms (estimated at 80-90% Pure Gold). This piece has an Impressive provenance, from 1960's Enrique Vargas Alfaro (know for his prestigious high end collection. Many of his pieces reside in the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and the Denver Art Museum).
Growing up poor as an illegitimate son of a prominent military commander from a tough part of Spain, Francisco Pizzaro arrives in South America in 1532. He was illiterate but a good solider, he followed rumors to an empire laden with gold. He was searching for a mysterious people called the Incans. The Incans had built the single largest empire the world has ever known, with roughly 20 million people controlled by 3000 square miles. The roads here were supposedly built even better than the Romans. The Incans are masters at crafting gold and silver ingot fantastic ornamental jewelry. Most of the gold goes to worship their provider the god of the sun. Incans believed they were the children of the sun which gave them the divine right to go out and conquer people who were “less than.”
When Pizzaro shows up the terrain is rough, the jungles and mountains are constantly raining with dangerous snakes and spiders. After a month of slashing away at the warm humid jungle wearing armor they make their way thru what is present day Peru. They find small villages on the outskirts and are told the main city is at the top of the mountains. As they climb the nights get freezing and they days are hot. As they get to the main city the Incans are mesmerized by the Spanish horses they think they might even be part deer part human which there were depictions of on their walls (they had never seen a horse yet).
Pizzaro tells them they want to trade for gold but tells his men to have their weapons ready. 168 men arrive and find the Incan king and his ten thousand warriors. The king welcomes them thinking they are new friends and then the Spanish spontaneously launch their attack. After two hours of fighting, only ONE Spaniard is injured and they had slaughtered 5,000 Indians, one of the most unbelievable fights in history.
The King says he’ll give the Spanish whatever they want and Pizarro tells them to fill a room the same size as his cell with gold, which was 22ft x 17ft x 9ft. They filled the room not only with gold value but these were exquisite works of art. The king is released but he’s kept under house arrest. For half a year the gold pours in from all corners of the Incan Empire, the room promised is OVERFILLED 20x OVER! 11 tons of precious treasure! The Spanish are still not satisfied, they patrol the outskirts harassing and searching for more treasure.
They find their way to Cuzco, the capital and where the majority lived. The Incans do everything they promised and yet the king is still not released. On July 26, 1533, after 8 months in captivity, he’s murdered. Pizzaro believed if he let him go, the king could raise an army and retaliate. Warriors fled into the jungles and after 2 years they began a 20 year gorilla war. Land is divided between the Spanish and the remaining Incans. Frightened natives tell rumors of a new city of gold, even more than the Incans and Aztecs combined. They said the king was even to have skin of gold, they called him the gilded one, El Dorado.
Provenance: Enrique Vargas Alfaro, 1960s. Mr. Alfaro was the source of high quality Pre-Columbian art sold to prestigious collections such as Andre Emmerich, Morton D. May, Frederick and Jan Mayer, and William C. and Carol W. Thibadeau. Artworks listing him as provenance appear in the collections of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, The Denver Art Museum, and the William C. Carlos Museum. Private collection, Atlanta, GA.
The term "Tumbaga" actually refers to any gold alloy that has a significant amount of copper (and sometimes also silver) that was so named by the Central American craftsmen who used this sort of alloy for its workability and the fact that it melted at much lower temperatures than its component pure elements. Some Tumbaga alloys are so heavy on the copper and light on the gold that they quickly corroded when items made of them were buried in the perpetually wet soils of the region, many being found as masses of green, hydrated salts of copper (similar to how copper and silver coins are often found in masses after remaining lost at sea for a couple hundred years) and when chemically "recovered" are found to be severely pitted. Tumbaga relics in this condition are often aggressively worked/reworked to return the remaining metal to a semblance of its original appearance, but it is easy to discern their altered state. These would be those in the 3-7% gold content that you asked about.
Other Tumbaga relics are found to have as high as 97% pure gold with the remaining component more or less exclusively copper. Such "Tumbaga" relics are immediately evident for their obvious gold luster and the absence of significant copper corrosion or evidence that such has been removed. Many of the best "Tumbaga" relics appear to have been made with unalloyed native gold, which would usually have had both copper and silver (and sometimes either arsenic or antimony) present. Native gold usually presents in the 80-90% gold range, with Australian nuggets frequently assaying well above 90% and Alaskan and Californian gold closer to 80%. Crystalline Venezuelan gold comes in pretty pure, with a rose hue due to minor copper replacement in the crystal lattice, but I haven't read anything about Costa Rican or Panamanian native gold compositions. And it should be noted that the gold used by the pre-Columbian craftsmen would most likely have been obtained by panning for nuggets, as opposed to processing low-grade ores - the technology and chemicals for which were not available at the time.