A visit to the bustling capital of Colombia, Bogotá would not be complete without a visit to the excellent Museo del Oro. I mean it. This amazing collection of artifacts will fill several hours if you like looking at the intricate works (over 6,000 on display) of the pre-Colombian (before Columbus) people who worked with gold and other metals.
Part two of this post will talk about El Dorado, man and legend.
Poporo is a device used by indigenous cultures in present and pre-Columbian South America for storage of small amounts of lime (mineral). It is constituted by two pieces: the receptacle, and the lid which includes a pin that is used to carry the lime to the mouth while chewing coca leaves. Since the chewing of coca is sacred for the indigenous people, the poporos are also attributed with mystical powers and social status.
In Colombia, poporos are found in archeological remains from the Chibcha, Muisca, and Quimbaya cultures among others. The materials used in the early periods are mainly pottery and carved stone. In classic periods gold and tumbaga are the most frequent: an example of this is the Poporo Quimbaya exhibited in the Gold Museum which is a national symbol. At the present time, the indigenous people of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta still use poporos made with the dried fruits of a plant of genus cucurbita (totumo), in the traditional way.
The Poporo Quimbaya is an unusual piece, made of tumbaga, with oddly minimalistic lines, that give it a modern look. It is one of the most recognized precolumbian artpieces, being often used as a symbol of the indigenous precolumbian culture. It has been depicted in the Colombian currency, in coins and bills.
Condor Ear Ornament
Frontal of a two-part ear ornament; the condor’s beak is of platinum. From the Tumaco zone.
Gold artifacts from the southwestern part of Colombia are, for the most part, of a purer gold than those of the rest of the country; this is due, in part, to the relative richness of raw gold sources. In the metallurgy of Nariiio and Tumaco, gold was sometimes combined with platinum and silver, metals that are found mixed with alluvial gold. The abundance of these metals does not entirely explain their use, however; another, very important factor is the symbolism of gold. Gold was the ‘sweat of the sun’ in many southern cultures, and the sun itself was considered to be a masculine, generative principle. Silver represented the tears of the moon, a feminine entity. The color and consistency of both metals caused them to be associated in legend with the most important celestial bodies.
Figure pendant found in the Cauca River Valley that is stylized in the characteristic Tolima manner.
The middle Magdalena River valley has yielded Calima-style goldwork, including laminated pectorals decorated with faces in relief and assembled figurines; objects typical of the Magdalena zone, such as pendants and necklace beads with squared-off ends, have been found in the Calima and Quimbaya regions. These stylistic and technological similarities suggest ancient trade relationships that can be confirmed only by controlled excavations.
Mask from Tierradentro
A mask from Tierradentro, that is exceptional for its realism and expressiveness. Masks are often found in the goldwork of southwest Colombia.
Goldwork from Tierradentro displays iconography very similar to that of San Agustin stone sculpture, and there is a general correspondence in the pottery and sculpture of the two regions. Tierradentro is famous for its large chambered tombs cut into bedrock, painted inside with red and black geometric motifs; these tombs contained funerary urns and other ceramic offerings.
Heron Staff Head
Staff head adorned with a heron, the type of showy plumaged bird that appears on Zenu objects. Sinu zone.
The metalsmiths of this region also cast gold, sometimes mixed with small amounts of copper; these tumbaga pieces were then gilded. The cast objects are· solid, heavy, and often of considerable size. Examples include staff heads with human or animal shapes, anthropomorphic pendants, bells, and many kinds of zoomorphic effigy beads. Most pieces are decorated with threads, braids, spirals, and circles of false filigree; the same technique, diagnostic of Zenu gold, was used to produce semicircular ear ornaments decorated with thick rings and figure-eight motifs.
So many items in the likeness of local beasts, all with intricate detail.
Finally…. pottery figures. I’ve restrained myself from comparing this one to an ancient alien astronaut….
Think that’s it for this post. Next time, more gold.