Beyond El Dorado
17 October 2013 – 22 March 2014
More than 300 objects made from gold and other precious materials reveal the extraordinary metalworking skill of the peoples of ancient Colombia.
Historian Bettany Hughes presents our video-tour of the exhibition.
The legend of El Dorado has enraptured audiences for centuries, sometimes imagined as a lost city of gold, sometimes as a man covered in powdered gold who plunged into the middle of Lake Guatavita.
In actuality, pre-Hispanic Colombia was a hive of metalwork activity, its people highly skilled in sophisticated goldworking techniques.
Unlike in Europe, gold was not valued as currency and instead had great symbolic meaning, being used by the elite to publicly assert their rank, both in life and in death.
With a focus on the craftsmanship of peoples known as the Muisca, Quimbaya, Calima and Tairona, the exhibition also looks at how gold was associated with rituals of hallucinogenic transformation and engagement with animal spirits.
More than 200 objects are borrowed from the Museo del Oro in Bogotá, including pieces dating back more than 2,000 years.
The display features masks made for the mummies of ancestors, ornaments showing humans transformed into bats, jaguars or eagles, and elaborate containers made to hold drugs including coca and peyote.
These items will be joined by 100 other artefacts from the British Museum's own holdings.