10 Things You Can't Miss at The Museum of Gold

Visit this museum in the Colombian capital city of Bogotá

By Google Arts & Culture

Appliqué in the shape of an anthropomorphous face (-200/900) by Tierradentro, Upper Magdalena Region - Middle PeriodMuseo del Oro, Bogotá

This thin sheet of gold has been hammered and embossed until it resembles a human face ornamented with paint, tattoos, or decorative scars.

This mask-like object is typical of the Tierradentro culture, which thrived in the mountains of south west Colombia between 200BCE and 900CE. The Tierradentro had no writing system, so all we know of them is from their tombs and their art.

Appliqué in the shape of a feline (-200/900) by Tierradentro, Upper Magdalena Region - Middle PeriodMuseo del Oro, Bogotá

This similar object, known as the Inzá Mask, depicts the snarling face of a jaguar, wearing a crown of snakes. These are creatures commonly associated in the region with gods and kings.

However, it's unlikely to have been a mask. The holes at its corners show that it was once attached to something, perhaps a wooden statue, a crown, or the front of a cloak.

Staff finial in the shape of a bird (-200/1000) by Caribbean Plains (Zenú) - Early PeriodMuseo del Oro, Bogotá

This bird-shaped finial was made by members of the Zenú culture, found on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Its three dimensional form is very different to the 'masks' of the  Tierradentro.

The detailed features of this finial were achieved using the lost-wax method of metal casting: where the mould is made by wrapping wet clay around a carved wax model. As the clay is fired, the wax melts away, leaving a hollow space for the liquid gold.

Votive figure with anthropomorphous figures (600/1600) by Eastern Cordillera - Muisca PeriodMuseo del Oro, Bogotá

The lost-wax method was used in this votive object, intended to be given as a gift to a temple or a grave. It depicts a dignitary, wearing a nose ring and crown, accompanied on a litter or a raft by two attendants, shown at a smaller scale.

The Muisca culture that created this object lived in the area around modern-day Bogotá, and dominated the surrounding regions, becoming rich in gold and emeralds. It was artworks such as this that made the Muisca the targets of the gold-hungry Spanish conquistadors.

Anthropomorphous pendant with danglers (-500/700) by Mid-Cauca (Quimbaya) - Early PeriodMuseo del Oro, Bogotá

This human figure, with triangular outline, prominent cheek bones, half closed eyes and mouth, is covered with dangling half-moon plates. These plates are a common feature of many pre-contact artefacts of Colombia, including ceramic as well as metal artworks.

The purpose and meaning of these plates is uncertain. They would have caught the light and made a distinctive, jangling sound, and they also hide the shape of the human body. They may relate to ideas of transformation or transcendence of human form.

Breastplate in the shape of a bat-man (900/1600) by Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta - Tairona PeriodMuseo del Oro, Bogotá

This character frequently seen in Tairona goldwork is the representation of a ruler or priest. The Tairona were governed by a powerful elite of shamans, and maybe the most important one was known as the bat-man because of his virtues, talents, knowledge and wisdom.

His headdress is adorned with feathers, his nose is pierced with gold rings, as is his lower lip, and he wears ornaments that resemble bat ears. These physical attributes would mark him out from every other member of the community, demonstrating his sanctity.

Breastplate in the form of a jaguar - man (-1/700) by Mid-Magdalena Valley (Tolima) - Middle PeriodMuseo del Oro, Bogotá

The artworks held in the Museum of Gold show the great variety in aesthetics across pre-contact Colombian cultures. It's most easy to see this in human figures, such as in this purely geometric depiction of the human body by people of the Tolima culture.

It's thought that this ornament would have been worn on the chest of a significant figure, perhaps a ruler or a priest. The intricate facial details and the perforations across the body may represent tattoos or scarification.

Ear spools (-200/1300) by Calima-Malagana Region - Yotoco PeriodMuseo del Oro, Bogotá

Body modification, such as piercing, stretching, tattooing, and scarification, was common across cultures in the pre-contact Americas. These two large, weighty rings were once worn as ear spools, known today as flesh tunnels.

At nearly 9cm across, it would have taken months, if not years, to stretch the ears wide enough to wear them.

Nose ornament with danglers, in the shape of a feline (-200/1300) by Calima-Malagana Region - Yotoco PeriodMuseo del Oro, Bogotá

It might surprise you to know that this enormous sheet of gold was also a piece of body jewellery. It is a plate that would have hung from a chieftains nose. It was found in his grave, alongside earrings, a chest plate, and tweezers.

If you take a closer look, you'll see this nose plate is in the form of a squatting jaguar. A feline face with a human nose and green eyes stares at you, the spotted skin represented by dangling ornaments. It crouches, ready to attack.

Pendant in the shape of a winged fish (1/900) by San Agustín, Upper Magdalena Region - Regional Classical PeriodMuseo del Oro, Bogotá

This beautiful, unique model of a flying fish is special enough. But, the fact that it was found in a grave near San Agustín, high in the Andes mountains, far from the Pacific ocean where flying fish are common, makes it even more intriguing.

Its prominent eyes and jaws contrast with the sleek, plain appearance of its body, and give it the strange look of a jaguar. We can only imagine what the chieftain who wore this as a necklace would have thought when he first saw it.

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