This is the last article you can read this month
You can read more article this month
You can read more articles this month
Sorry your limit is up for this month
Beyond El Dorado: Power And Gold In Ancient Colombia
British Museum, London WC1
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 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 Musica 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 skullcap 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
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by joining the 501 club.
Just £5 a month gives you the opportunity to win one of 17 prizes, from £25 to the £501 jackpot.
By becoming a 501 Club member you are helping the Morning Star cover its printing, distribution and staff costs — help keep our paper thriving by joining!
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by become a member of the People’s Printing Press Society.
The Morning Star is a readers’ co-operative, which means you can become an owner of the paper too by buying shares in the society.
Shares are £10 each — though unlike capitalist firms, each shareholder has an equal say. Money from shares contributes directly to keep our paper thriving.
Some union branches have taken out shares of over £500 and individuals over £100.
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by donating to the Fighting Fund.
The Morning Star is unique, as a lone socialist voice in a sea of corporate media. We offer a platform for those who would otherwise never be listened to, coverage of stories that would otherwise be buried.
The rich don’t like us, and they don’t advertise with us, so we rely on you, our readers and friends. With a regular donation to our monthly Fighting Fund, we can continue to thumb our noses at the fat cats and tell truth to power.
Donate today and make a regular contribution.