|Barriles was located on the fertile slopes of the Barú volcano, which today is in the province of Chiriquí, encompassing and inhabited zone, a cemetery and a ceremonial hillock. It was discovered and studied by U.S. archaeologist Mathew W. Stirling in the 1950's. Stirling, who was the only one to see it in its original form (it was altered later when statues were removed and sent to museums) described a ceremonial hillock culminating in a stony rectangular plaza decorated with mysterious petroglyphs and a line of statues starting east of the hillock.|
|Barriles civilization is famous for its stone statues and beautiful and curious "metates", flat stones on which corn was ground. The statues usually represent a man holding a head-trophy. Sometimes, a second man carries an axe on his shoulder. This peculiar kind of sculpture suggests a warriors' culture with slaves and caciques (chiefs).|
| The gigantic metates of Barriles were used in ceremonial rites associating corn with fertility. The monocolor pottery made during that period is called "Bugaba", and has a red or dark orange tone but is varied in designs, often repeating those found in Barriles statues.
According to Panamanian archaeologist Olga Linares, Barú volcano erupted in the 5th century A.D., provoking the disappearance of that strange civilization, and with it, the stone statues and Bugaba pottery. After a period of uncertain definition for the archaeologists, the region was occupied by two cultures known as the San Lorenzo and Classic Chiriquí phases. Those periods are characterized by a great variety of earthenware: the thin and elaborate type called "Bisquist": a three-color one with red and black designs over a cream background; another called "fish tripod" because it has three legs and features a fish, and lastly the "negative" painted technique. The ceramic was covered by wax designs and painted. The wax was later removed leaving the design in "negative".
| Gold objects were valued as status symbols and like elaborate ceramics, played an important role in trade with other groups.Moreover, gold objects as well as painted pottery were used to proclaim identity. Their owners used them and were buried with them.
Goldsmiths worked two types of gold: the first one, "Tumbaga", was alloyed with copper and used for elaborate jewelry, more valued for its form than for its weight in gold, and the other employed 22k. gold for pestered and embossed disks, crowns, helmets, and bracelets.
Pre-Columbian Art and its aesthetic forms have a meaning and express a belief, for example, local jewelry constantly features mythical animals, such as frogs, felines, crocodiles, and birds of prey. Animal designs in duplicate concur with the belief that human have an alter ego, a second self represented by a clear side and a dark side, human one and animal one, while batmen and crocodile men are the representation of cultural heroes.
(From "Getting to know PANAMA", Michéle Labrut, Focus Publications, 1997).