Beyond El Dorado at The British Museum
Exploring the truth behind the legend of El Dorado, the British Museum focuses on pre-Colombian culture before the 16th-century Spanish invasion. Over 200 artefacts from the Museo del Oro, Bogotá join around 100 from the museum’s own collections, on display until 23 March 2014. The ancient Andean peoples used advanced gold-working techniques to create alloys with copper and silver, and spectacular masks are on display beside highly crafted textiles, feathers, stones and ceramics.
Many different stories have been told of El Dorado – literally ‘the golden one’. The legend has been imagined as a lost city of gold, and sometimes as a man covered in powdered gold who plunged into the middle of Lake Guatavita (near modern Bogotá). The exhibition unveils the truth behind these myths, and explores gold’s symbolic meaning in pre-Hispanic Andean culture. Gold was associated with all kinds of social and spiritual transformations including rituals of hallucinogenic transformation, engagement with animal spirits and objects animated through music, dancing and sunlight.
The detailed works display a level of complex craftsmanship that combines art and skill, and show the differences in techniques and designs across the region. With a focus on the craftsmanship of peoples known as the Muisca, Quimbaya, Calima and Tairona, the exhibition presents a hidden network of distinct cultures in ancient South America.