18 October 2013 by Alex Stewart
The British Museum has launched its latest exhibition, Beyond El Dorado, which features 200 artefacts from Bogotá's Museo del Oro (Museum of Gold) and showcases the mystery and majesty of ancient Colombia before the 16thcentury arrival of the Spanish.
The exhibition looks at the reality behind the stories that so excited European explorers from the 16th century onwards, who were drawn to find the legendary lake into which a ruler entirely covered in gold, The El Dorado or Golden One, made offerings of gold and emeralds.
Neil MacGregor, director of the British museum, said, 'Ancient Colombia has long represented a great fascination to the outside world and yet there is very little understood about these unique and varied cultures.'
'As part of the Museum's series of exhibitions that shine a light on little known and complex ancient societies this exhibition will give our visitors a glimpse into these fascinating cultures of pre-Hispanic South America and a chance to explore the legend of El Dorado through these stunning objects.'
In truth a number of complex cultures flourished in Colombia's vast, densely forested mountains, using breathtaking artefacts to channel the spiritual power of the sun. Although gold had no value as a currency in pre-Hispanic Colombia, it had great symbolic meaning; it was one way the elite could publicly assert their rank and semi-divine status.
The exhibition features exhibits dredged from Lake Guatavita, near modern day Bogotá, although these are clay figurines and stone necklaces rather than gold or emerald objects. These pieces do appear though and include helmets, chest plates, jewellery, sacred figures and animal shapes that demonstrate why Europeans were dazzled by the legends for so long.
The exhibition runs from 17 October until 13 March. Admission £10. Opening hours 10.00-17.30 Saturday to Thursday and 10.00-20.30 Friday.