Ancient Colombian culture and gold

This video from England is called Beyond El Dorado: Power and gold in ancient Colombia.

By Michal Boncza in Britain:

Exhibition: Beyond El Dorado – Power And Gold in Ancient Colombia

Saturday 9th November 2013

If you were ever intrigued by the myth of El Dorado you can now see it in all its magnificence at an eye-opening exhibition, says MICHAL BONCZA

Beyond El Dorado: Power And Gold In Ancient Colombia

British Museum, London WC1

5 Stars

In western Colombia the Andes split into a trident of eastern, central and western ranges and at its epicentre a network of six sophisticated and distinct cultures flourished from around 1,600BC to 1,600AD.

These were cultures that existed at approximately the same period of time as the Mayas but which lasted 10 times longer than those of the Incas or Aztecs.

One of the extraordinary features common to all of them, as this magnificent exhibition demonstrates, is an astonishing command of metallurgy. Smelting skills allowed the production of objects made from copper, gold and silver alloys with specific qualities of colour and easier to cast than pure gold.

The individual stylistic features of treasures discovered in far-flung isolated locations indicate considerable mobility among the craftsmen and point to societies that traded extensively in everything from raw materials, feathers, shells, agricultural produce, tools and everyday utensils.

Little is known about prevalent belief systems or social structures at the time but evidence points to peoples who made no distinction between humans and other creatures and transformative dressing – as birds, bats or jaguars – enhanced by the use of many different intoxicants enabled them to alter their view of the world in what can only be described as out-of-body experiences.

The highly polished finish of most of the objects, and suspended additions within them – mostly thin circles no bigger than a five or 20p coin – suggest a particular aesthetic appreciation of iridescence created by movement and reflections from the sun or bonfires in the night.

The most intriguing section of the exhibition is that devoted to the Muisca people (6000-1600AD) who lived in the eastern Andes.

In the crater of an extinct volcano there lies the mysterious lake Guatavita, revered by the Muisca. During periodic religious ceremonies their leader – covered head to foot in gold dust – sailed on a raft to the middle of the lake where he cast offerings of emeralds and gold objects overboard.

It’s easy to guess what effect this had on the European simpletons witnessing it – and those who heard the story later – and consequently various hare-brained attempts were made to drain the lake without much success. Happily it now enjoys a protected status safe from the deranged avarice fed by the warped myth of El Dorado.

The breathtaking mastery of the Muisca is evidenced by the “tunjos” on show, votive offerings of figurines ritually placed in the surrounding landscape, cast in gold using the lost wax technique. There is an array of earrings, nose and lip ornaments, pectorals, masks, pendants, animal figurines as well as ritualistic skullcaps like helmets and necklaces on show, all crafted with unrivalled skill and creativity run riot.

And that is only half of it – for the rest I urge you to go and be filled with wonderment.

There’s an excellent companion book to the exhibition by Elisenda Vila Llonch – a steal at £19.99.

Until March 23 2014. Box office: (020) 7323-8181.

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