Beyond El Dorado: power and gold in ancient Colombia, The British Museum, until 23rd March

Beyond El Dorado: power and gold in ancient Colombia, at The British Museum organised with Museo del Oro, until 23rd March

Funerary mask, Calima-Malagana, gold alloy, 100BC-AD400.  © Museo del Oro – Banco de la República, Colombia.

Funerary mask, Calima-Malagana, gold alloy, 100BC-AD400.
© Museo del Oro – Banco de la República, Colombia.

The legend of El Dorado, ‘the golden one’, beguiled Europeans in their search for exoticism and their greed for gold for many centuries and this exhibition reveals the truth behind some of the myths they believed. It takes us into the world of the different peoples who made up ancient Colombia between 1600 BC-1600AD.

Painted cotton textile, Muisca, AD1300-1400.  © The Trustees of the British Museum

Painted cotton textile, Muisca, AD1300-1400.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The exhibition particularly focuses on the Muisca, Quimbaya, Calima, Tolima, Zenú and Tairona regions and through the objects looks at their vibrant and distinctive cultures, including religious practices that involved dance, music, sunlight, hallucinogenic substances and engagement with animal spirits.

Anthropomorphic bat pectoral, Tairona, gold alloy, AD900-1600.  © Museo del Oro – Banco de la República, Colombia.

Anthropomorphic bat pectoral, Tairona, gold alloy, AD900-1600.
© Museo del Oro – Banco de la República, Colombia.

Perhaps one of the most important facts to come out of this exhibition is that not all objects are pure gold but are of an alloy known as tumbaga, which is a mixture of gold and copper.  In some cases it could be as little as 5% gold and 95% copper. Gold was regarded as symbolic and not as a currency in ancient Colombia, and was used to assert rank both in life and death.  The level of craftsmanship and goldsmithing skills were formidable for the time as the objects clearly demonstrate. As well as gold ceramics, feathers, textiles and stones were also used in funerary rituals.

Necklace with claw shaped beads, Zenú, gold alloy, 200BC-AD1000. ©Museo del Oro – Banco de la República, Colombia.

Necklace with claw shaped beads, Zenú, gold alloy, 200BC-AD1000.
©Museo del Oro – Banco de la República, Colombia.

This is a great voyage into a golden past that should be undertaken by all.

Figurine rattle, late Quimbaya, ceramic, AD 700–1600 .  © The Trustees of the British Museum

Figurine rattle, late Quimbaya, ceramic, AD 700–1600 .
© The Trustees of the British Museum

http://www.britishmuseum.org

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