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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.

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

Painted cotton textile, Muisca, AD1300-1400.

Anthropomorphic bat pectoral, Tairona, gold alloy, AD900-1600. Copyright Museo del Oro, Banco de la Republica, Colombia el dorado

Anthropomorphic bat pectoral, Tairona, gold alloy, AD900-1600. Copyright Museo del Oro, Banco de la Republica, Colombia

Articulated nose ornament, Yotoco, gold alloy, 200BC-AD1200. el dorado

Articulated nose ornament, Yotoco, gold alloy, 200BC-AD1200.

Bird pectoral, Popayan, gold alloy, AD100-1600. el dorado

Bird pectoral, Popayan, gold alloy, AD100-1600.

Funerary mask, Calima-Malagana, gold alloy, 100BC-AD400. el dorado

Funerary mask, Calima-Malagana, gold alloy, 100BC-AD400. Copyright Museo del Oro, Banco de la Republica, Colombia

Helmet, Quimbaya, gold alloy, 500BC-AD600. Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum

Helmet, Quimbaya, gold alloy, 500BC-AD600.

Necklace of red stone and claw shaped beads, Tairona, gold alloy, AD900-1600. Copyright Museo del Oro, Banco de la Republica, Colombia

Necklace of red stone and claw shaped beads, Tairona, gold alloy, AD900-1600.

Necklace with claw shaped beads, Zenu, gold alloy, 200BC-AD1000. Copyright Museo del Oro, Banco de la Republica, Colombia

Necklace with claw shaped beads, Zenu, gold alloy, 200BC-AD1000.

Poporo top with human faces, Quimbaya, AD600-1100. Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum

Poporo top with human faces, Quimbaya, AD600-1100.

Seated female poporo, Quimbaya, gold alloy, AD600-1100. Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum

Seated female poporo, Quimbaya, gold alloy, AD600-1100.

 

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