British Museum to hold El Dorado exhibition - picture preview


The reality behind El Dorado, South America's mythical city of gold, will be revealed at a new exhibition of ancient art.

Exhibits including ceremonial gold helmets and objects used during ritual drug taking will go on show at the British Museum.

El Dorado, often misinterpreted as a mythical city of gold, actually referred to a ritual that took place at a lake near the modern day city of Bogota in Colombia where the new ruler of one of the native tribes was covered in powdered gold before diving into the water.

The exhibition includes objects salvaged from the lake dating back to before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century.

Among the objects on show are a gold and platinum container used to store lime powder which was mixed with coca leaves and chewed.

Exhibition curator Elisenda Vila Llonch said the drug was valued because it "gives you extra strength to work in high altitudes, in very cold climates and it suppresses hunger".

Other objects include jewellery and gold masks worn during burial rituals.

Museum director Neil MacGregor 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."

Beyond El Dorado: power and gold in ancient Colombia runs from October 17 to March 23.