Beyond El Dorado: Power and Gold in Ancient Colombia
Elisenda Vila Llonch
In ancient Colombia, people did not use gold as currency or desire it for its economic value. Gold was revered instead for its symbolic association and transformative properties. This sacred metal was used to create some of the most visually dramatic and technically sophisticated works of art found anywhere in the Americas before European contact. Drawing on the spectacular collections of the Museum del Oro in Bogota and the British Museum, this beautiful book features over 100 masterpieces fashioned exquisitely in gold and its alloy tumbaga, including small votive figures, decorative nose rings and earrings, vessels, pectorals and masks. These are presented alongside an array of other highly valued objects – textiles, ceramic figurines, shells, colourful stone beads – which also played a significant part in daily and ritual contexts. Focusing on the artistic production of six of the many chiefdoms that populated pre-Hispanic Colombia, the author explores the fascinating truth behind the myth and ritual of El Dorado (the gilded one), the use of gold objects by spiritual leaders in their dangerous mystical ‘soul journey’; the role played by gold in the public expression of identity and rank by chiefs and community spiritual leaders; and the importance of gold in accompanying the deceased on the final journey to the afterlife. Beyond El Dorado: power and gold in ancient Colombia is published to complement a major exhibition at the British Museum from October 2013 to March 2014.