Colombian Gold Shines at the British Museum’s Beyond El Dorado

Spirituality, legend and the relationship between power and gold come to the fore in the British Museum’s Beyond El Dorado, which opens on October 17. The exhibition explores the myth of El Dorado, the role of gold in ancient Colombia and the mysterious cultures of the people who lived there.

Dazzled by the bounty of Colombian gold, the Europeans developed fanciful tales about a magical El Dorado, often portrayed as a lost city made entirely of gold. But the truth behind these legends is no less fascinating: for example, the Muisca ritual that most likely gave rise to the tale of El Dorado required a leader to be covered in powdered gold and to dive into Lake Guatavita if he wished to be named chief.

In pre-Hispanic Colombia, gold was the means to display social status, and was also employed in complex rituals like the Muisca’s, often with the purpose of connecting with animal spirits. To craft their magical pieces, Colombian goldsmiths often combined gold in an alloy with copper (called tumbaga) or added it to feathers, fabric, stone or ceramics. Now, the hundreds of artifacts displayed at the British Museum, many of which are being displayed in the UK for the first time, bring the extent of their skills sharply into focus.

Above all, though, this exhibition is an exciting cavalcade across exquisite gold objects that will dazzle you as much as it did the European Conquistadors of 500 years ago. And to bring Colombian culture to life, the British Museum is even hosting a dance workshop where you can learn to dance to Colombian folk music, Cumbia and Caribbean rhythms, and Cali’s Salsa (on Saturday 19 October from 12pm to 4pm). For more details, visit the British Museum‘s website.

Images: Bird pectoral, gold alloy. Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum.

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

Necklace with claw shaped beads, gold alloy. Copyright Museo del Oro, Banco de la Republica, Colombia. 

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