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American Museum of Natural History California Academy of Sciences 

New York, New York San Francisco, California 

October, 1977 through January, 1978 June through September, 1978 

Field Museum of Natural History Detroit Institute of Arts 

Chicago, Illinois Detroit, Michigan 

February through May, 1978 October through December, 1978 

This exhibition of pre-Columbian gold from Museo Oro 
del Peru is presented under the auspices of The National 
Institute of Culture, Peru, and was designed by the 
American Museum of Natural History, New York. 

The participating institutions wish to acknowledge their 
appreciation to: 

General Francisco Morales Bermudez, President of 
Peru . . . Jose de la Puente Radbill, Peruvian Minister of 
Foreign Relations . . . Otto Elespuru Revoredo, Peruvian 
Minister of Education . . . Carlos Garcia Bedoya, Peru- 
vian Ambassador to the United States . . . Harry W. 
Shlaudeman, United States Ambassador to Peru . . . Dr. 
Jorge Cornejo Polar, Director of the National Institute 
of Culture, Peru . . . Miguel Mujica Gallo, Founder and 
General Director of Museo Oro del Peru . . . Lani Lattin, 
Executive Secretary, Federal Council on the Arts and 
the Humanities, United States. 

Authorization for the temporary export of the objects 
was granted in Ministerial Resolution No. 2671-ED-77 
by the Government of Peru. 

Indemnification of the items was awarded by the Federal 
Council on the Arts and the Humanities. 

Photographs in this booklet courtesy of the Royal 
Ontario Museum. 


INCA: 1450-1532 A.D. 

Their empire extended over much of the highland 
and coastal regions of western South America. 
Used lavish amounts of gold to adorn their temples; 
little survives. 

CHIMU: 1000-1470 A.D. 

Ruled a series of north coastal river valleys from 
Chan Chan, their capital. Great numbers of gold 
mortuary objects have been recovered from their 
tombs. Chancay culture, slightly to the south, was 
contemporary with them. 

MOCHE: 200-700 A.D. 

A north coast valley culture, less far-reaching than 
the Chimu. Their goldwork included skillfully exe- 
cuted figures in the round. 

NAZCA: 200-500 A.D. 

Inhabited a south coastal area including the desert 
plain famous for its lines and huge figures. 
Fanciful animal forms dominate their rare cut sheet- 
gold pieces. 

Successors to the Paracas culture, known for its 
unique embroidered textiles. 

VICUS: 200 B.C.-300 A.D. 

A northern inland culture, recently discovered and 
not well understood. The elegance of their style 
shows early mastery of working with gold. 


For many of us enjoying the riches of Peruvian 
civilization for the first time, it is important to note 
that the Inca with their famous empire and fabulous 
cities were preceded by numerous cultures covering 
a time span of more than two millennia before the 
arrival of the Spanish. During the long period when 
they flourished in various areas of Peru, these peo- 
ples developed large kingdoms, domesticated a whole 
array of food plants and produced textiles among 
the finest in the world. This exhibit presents exam- 
ples of goldwork produced by several of these earlier 
cultures, particularly those which left their riches 
beneath the desert sands of the Peruvian coast. 

Few regions were so blessed in the abundance of 
gold as Peru and few cultures exploited their riches 
with such technological and artistic ingenuity. Un- 

fortunately, most of Peru's golden treasure was 
either collected in the vain attempt to ransom Ata- 
hualpa, the last native ruler, from his Spanish cap- 
tors or was looted from thousands of tombs in the 
first centuries following the European invasion in 
1532. Many tons* of skillfully crafted golden objects 
were melted down for easier shipment and division 
among those who had little appreciation for their 
beauty and meaning, or for the achievement these 
pieces symbolized. 

Only a tiny sample remains to us. But the mag- 
nificent collection assembled by the Museo Oro del 
Peru, in Lima, is more than enough to establish both 
the great creativity of ancient Peruvian civilization 
and the fantastic natural wealth available to it. 

Pre-Columbian Peruvian culture areas 
represented in the exhibit 

INCA: Circa 1450-1532 

In 1532, Francisco Pizarro conquered Peru, open- 
ing a whole new land of riches and a new era of 
growth and prosperity for Europe. At the same time, 
the Spanish conquest of the Inca empire brought to 
an end one of the world's great civilizations. 

Legends of Peruvian treasure preceded Pizarro's 
voyage. In fact, the quest for golden riches partly 
inspired exploration of the New World. But despite 
many tantalizing finds of exquisite goldwork in Mex- 
ico and elsewhere in the Americas, really large quan- 
tities of the precious metal eluded the Europeans 
until Spanish conquistadors met the Inca ruler Ata- 
hualpa at the town of Cajamarca in the northern 
Andes. Taken captive, Atahualpa sent an order 
throughout his vast realm to bring gold and silver 

from the temples and palaces. The metal the Euro- 
peans so prized was to have bought his freedom. 

Calculations based on the list of gold objects as- 
sembled and their approximate weights and quali- 
ties suggest that as raw gold the ransom would have 
been worth about $28,175,000 at the market price 
of August 17, 1977. There was much silver in ad- 
dition. The Spanish invaders executed Atahualpa 
shortly after his fabulous ransom had been collected 
and divided it among themselves. 

As the Spanish were more interested in the com- 
mercial value of the gold than in the beauty and use 
of the objects, they melted down all of the vast Inca 
treasure. Within a few years of the conquest, the 
systematic looting of cemeteries began, and most of 
the gold unearthed in this manner was also converted 
to ingots. Even most of the gold more recently exca- 
vated has come to us from treasure hunters who did 
not care about collecting information to document 
its history and meaning. 

Yet, from fragments we can piece together a 
fascinating picture. What the Spanish wrote about 
what they saw, drawings on pottery that show gold 
in use, and occasional records of other objects in- 
cluded with gold in tombs give us at least a glimpse 
of a daily and ceremonial life as rich as the gold itself. 

In order to understand the use and meaning of 
gold in ancient Peru, it is best to begin at the end, 
as does this exhibit. Although little Inca gold sur- 
vived the melting pots, eyewitness accounts tell us 
something of its role in the rapidly collapsing empire. 

Like peoples everywhere, the ancient Peruvians 
appreciated the beauty of gold and thus used it 
lavishly as personal adornment, both in life and in 
death. The large Inca shawl pins or topus (items 10 
and 11, case 3) are elegantly simple examples. Their 
unencumbered, almost modern purity of form typi- 
fies Inca goldworking and other aspects of Inca arts. 

The Inca himself, members of his family and 
others of noble rank had the right to use dishes and 
other objects of daily life fashioned from gold, such 
as the two small beakers (items 18 and 19, case 6). 
Such beakers, often quite large, were probably used 

for drinking the maize beer called chicha. Many ac- 
counts describe public ceremonies during which par- 
ticipants consumed large amounts of chicha. The 
hospitality of the Inca and other leaders was an 
expected part of daily life, and the ability to provide 
such feasts was important to maintaining political 
power and influence. Using golden drinking vessels 
enhanced both the ceremony and the power and 
status of its providers. 

Religious objects made of gold for the adornment 
of temples also characterize many cultures. The 
Incas dedicated their most famous temple to their 
chief deity, the sun, in Cuzco. Known as Coricancha, 
the golden enclosure, it was a great compound of 
buildings surrounded by a beautiful cut-stone wall 
built without mortar. The temple contained the most 
fabulous treasures of the empire. None of it remains. 

A young Spanish soldier, Pedro de Cieza de Leon, 
described it in his chronicle of 1553 as follows: 

It had many gates, and the gateways 
finely carved; halfway up the wall ran a 
stripe of gold two handspans wide and 
four fingers thick. The gateway and doors 
were covered with sheets of this metal. 
Inside there were four buildings, not very 
large, fashioned in the same way, and the 
walls inside and out were covered with 

gold, and the beams too 

In one of these houses, which was the rich- 
est, there was an image of the sun, of great 
size, made of gold, beautifully wrought 
and set with many precious stones. . . . 
There was a garden in which the earth 
was lumps of fine gold, and it was cun- 
ningly planted with stalks of corn that 
were of gold — stalks, leaves and ears. . . . 
Aside from this, there were more than 20 
llamas of gold with their young, and the 
shepherds who guarded them, with their 
slings and staffs, all of this metal. ... In a 
word, it was one of the richest temples in 
the whole world. 

The use of gold in religion did not always reach 
the public scale of elaborate temples. Small figurines 
such as those included here (items 3 through 6, case 
2), usually a much more personal expression of re- 
ligion, were frequently left as a kind of offering in 
caves or other natural shrines. Only because of this 
practice did they survive the Spanish furnaces. 

The long ear of the figurine wearing the hat indi- 
cates the importance of earspools in pre-Columbian 
Peru. Persons of high status had their ears pierced 
and stretched to accommodate these enormous or- 
naments. Noting this unfamiliar custom, the Span- 
ish referred to such people as orejones, long ears. As 
a prime status symbol, earspools were made of vari- 
ous precious materials and intricately decorated. For 
example, the centers of the pair shown here (items 
41 and 42, case 10) are set with a mosaic of mother- 

Inca figurines 

of-pearl, turquoise, lapis lazuli, red spondylus shell 
and possibly jade. This pair and others are displayed 
in the Chimu section of the exhibit. 

The lifelike Inca figurines represented people or 
animals for whom prayers were offered. After people, 
the llama and its close relative the alpaca were prob- 
ably the characters most frequently portrayed in 
these small figures. Domesticated in the high Andean 
plain long before Inca times, these two camellike 
animals had different economic roles. The alpaca 
was raised for its fine wool; the llama served as a 
beast of burden and was also commonly sacrificed. 

Following an unusual Inca custom, each ruler 
accumulated his own treasure rather than simply 
inheriting it from his predecessors. A 16th-century 
account states: 

Chimu earspools 

Each dead lord has here his house and all 
that was paid to him as tribute during his 
life, for no lord who succeeds another can, 
after the death of the last one, take pos- 
session of his inheritance. Each one has his 
service of gold and of silver, and his things 
enclosed for himself, and he who follows 
takes nothing from him. 

Pedro Sancho, 1543 

As a result of this custom, the dead rulers did not 
have tombs in the ordinary sense of the word, but 
their houses continued to function, with staffs of 
retainers as well as the physical objects surrounding 
them in life. The mummies and associated cult ob- 
jects regularly took part in the appropriate cere- 
monies of state. 

Inca llama 

CHIMU: Circa 1200-1470 

Many of the customs documented for the Inca 
probably date back at least to the Chimu. Their 
kingdom, known as Chimor, was conquered by the 
Inca about 1470. In Chan Chan, the Chimu capital, 
each ruler built an enormous walled compound of 
adobe. The compounds included hundreds of storage 
chambers for food and very large burial platforms. 
The treasure accumulated by Chimu leaders was in- 
terred in tombs at Chan Chan and elsewhere in the 

Because so much of it comes from tombs, Chimu 
gold gives us insight into mortuary art and ritual. 
Many of the Chimu artifacts are simply the orna- 
ments and symbols of status probably collected dur- 
ing life. But others relate specifically to death and 
its attendant ceremony. The golden burial gloves 
and the large masks, attached as a sort of face to 
mummy bundles, provide examples of gold specifi- 
cally associated with death. 

The golden gloves (items 20 and 21, case 8) are 
so extraordinary and rare that it is difficult to inter- 
pret their place in Chimu culture. Their rigidity 
strongly suggests, of course, that they were never 
worn except possibly in death. Each finger with its 
silver fingernail, the hand and the arm were formed 
separately and the parts then assembled with golden 
tabs. Figures with plumed headdresses, depicted 
in profile on the back of the hands, carry clubs and 
probably represent warriors. A comparison of deco- 
rative details on the two gloves, such as the head- 
dress plumes, shows that they are not identical, a 
departure from the perfect matching usual for paired 

The eyes of the warrior figures have the upturned 
outer corners also characteristic of the mummy 
masks. This manner of portraying the eyes, known 
as the Lambayeque style, typifies goldwork from 
sites such as Pampa Grande in the Lambayeque Val- 
ley, north of Chan Chan. Much of the surviving 
Chimu gold comes from this area; discovery of the 
tombs there after the artistic and cultural value of 

ancient Peruvian objects had become obvious saved 
the contents from conversion to bullion. 

The several masks included in this exhibit, such 

Chimu burial gloves 

as item 62, case 15 (illustrated on cover) are excel- 
lent examples of Chimu mummy masks. They also 
point to interesting aspects of how the ancient Peru- 
vians worked gold and certain of their attitudes 
toward it. 

Detailed studies made at the Massachusetts In- 
stitute of Technology of masks similar to these show 
that they are not of pure gold but merely have a gilt 
surface. Far from reducing the value and interest of 
the masks, such studies underline the complex tech- 
nology of ancient Andean metallurgy. Basically, 
Andean gilding worked by chemically removing the 
other metals (usually silver and copper) from the 
surface of a gold alloy, leaving an exterior layer of 
almost pure gold. 

Gilding, of course, achieves a glittering golden ex- 
panse with a minimum of the precious metal. Eco- 
nomical use of gold no doubt played a role in the 
choice of gilding to make mummy masks and other 
large golden pieces. But still greater economies could 
have resulted from affixing gold foil to the surface 
of more common metal instead of beginning with, or 
in some cases producing, a gold alloy and enrich- 
ing its surface by chemical means. On rare occasions 
that was actually done. One authority has suggested 
that ancient Peruvians may have felt the need for 
gold objects to contain some gold throughout. Their 
total "essence" had to be golden even if they con- 
sisted mostly of other metals. 

And despite all the effort expended to achieve the 
golden surface of a mask, that surface was almost 
entirely covered with other materials. Inlays of silver 
and other metals covered the flanges which formed 
the ears; the eyes had insets of turquoise and other 
stones; feathers adorned parts of the mask, and vir- 
tually the entire face was often painted with mate- 
rials such as cinnabar. Less than 10% of the gold 
surface could be seen. Why was the gold so hidden? 
We come once again to the important presence of 
gold throughout the object: once the gold surface 
had been established, the fact that it could not be 
seen appeared not to matter. 

The color of many of the pieces in this exhibit can 
be traced to these gilding techniques and surface 
coverings. Frequently the enriched-gold surfaces 
have worn away, leaving silver and/ or copper ex- 
posed. Oxidation of these metals can produce a gray 
or green coloration. The masks themselves retain 
traces of the original paint. 

The very rare and well-preserved backrest of the 
Chimu litter (item 69, case 17) suggests the great 
splendor that surrounded royal travel. An eyewit- 
ness description of the arrival of Atahualpa in his 
litter to meet Pizarro in Cajamarca might also apply 
to the use of this litter by the Chimu. 

The advance guard of Atahualpa's army 
began to enter the square. First came a 
squadron of people dressed in a red-and- 

white check livery, who picked up the 
straws from the ground and swept the 
road; then more bands in different liveries, 
all singing and dancing, and after them a 
number of men with breastplates . . . me- 
dallions and gold and silver crowns, in the 
midst of whom came Atahualpa in a litter 
lined with multicolored parrot feathers 
and decorated with gold and silver plates. 
The ruler was borne on the shoulders of 
many men and behind him came two more 
litters and two hammocks containing per- 
sons of importance, who were followed 
by many more who wore gold and silver 
crowns. . . . 

Francisco de Jerez, 1534 

Chimu backrest of litter 

Miniature funeral procession 

Similar pomp attended the litter of a deceased 
ruler on the way to burial, illustrated in the exhibit 
by the miniature funeral procession (item 70, case 
18) with its carriers, household goods and plants. 
The litter was carried empty, however, and the 
mummy bundle borne separately, lashed to a pole. 

In use, the decorated side of the backrest faced 
the rear, where it could be viewed; the plain side was 
originally covered or padded with cloth. The six 
richly painted "portals" of this piece may represent 
administrative buildings, and the gold staffs held by 
the figures may be symbols of office. Gold plates 
attached to the wooden frame (perhaps a type of 
acacia wood) form most of the costume of the 
figures. The original decoration probably included 
feathers, leather and cloth as well. 

The small textile fragment (item 95, case 23) cov- 
ered with gold squares still sewn with their original 
threads shows how fabrics were sometimes decorated 
with gold, a custom demonstrated on a large scale 
by the magnificent shirt (item 71, case 19) to which 
about 13,000 gold plaques have been resewn. A gar- 

Shirt covered with gold plaques 

ment weighted down with so much gold could hardly 
have been comfortable. It may have been for a mum- 
my; if worn by a living person, its use would have 
been limited to rare ceremonial occasions. The design 
on the exposed part of the fabric appears to be Inca, 
and the textile may have been made after the Inca 
conquest of the north coast. 

The great number of beakers found in tombs (such 
as item 102, case 24) more likely symbolize wealth 
and pleasure in life than reflect a mortuary practice. 
As with the Inca, beakers almost certainly served 
chiefly as containers for the abundant maize beer 
that accompanied religious and political functions. 
In fact, the written evidence suggests that maize beer 
traditionally played a particularly important role in 
the social and political life of the north coast, and 
the quality and quantity of vessels a household pos- 
sessed for serving it was likely to be an excellent 
index of status. 

Beakers might be quite plain or adorned, like this 
one, with turquoise plaques and designs. Near the 
lip is a typical Chimu wave pattern. This beaker also 

has the double base characterized by a false bottom 
in the container proper; a rattle occupied the cham- 
ber formed between the two bases. The exact func- 
tion of the double base is unknown. Might the rattle 
have been a convenient signal for its user to indicate 
to his host that the golden goblet was empty? 

MOCHE: Circa 200-700 A.D. 

Moche goldwork has a more three-dimensional 
feeling than that of the Chimu. The Moche empha- 
sized shaping and combining multiple sheets of gold 
and they added bangles, which gave their creations 
a very special shimmering appearance. 

The spectacular feline figure, probably represent- 
ing a puma (item 138, case 32) exemplifies these 
qualities. It combines a flat sheet-gold body and tail 
with a three-dimensional head probably hammered 
over a wood form or "mold." Double-headed ser- 
pents decorate the flat surface. The two sheets of 
gold that compose the body form a bag similar in 
shape and size to the cloth bags used for carrying 
coca leaves. Chewing coca leaves mixed with a small 

amount of lime to liberate the cocaine was common, 
particularly among the nobility, and involved an 
elaborate ritual paraphernalia. Elsewhere in the ex- 
hibit are two small gold picks, each decorated with a 
bird (items 187 and 188, case 46), that may have 
been used to dip the lime from a gourd. 

Few prehistoric cultures have left such a vivid 
visual record as the Moche of their customs and 
activities. Their highly realistic art, especially the 
painted and modeled ceramics, reveals a society with 
a complex religious life as well as an emphasis on 
warfare. The many aspects of daily life depicted in- 
clude the plants and animals used by the Moche. 

These ceramics also enable us to see how the 
Moche used gold, particularly items of personal 
adornment such as earspools. Men are also shown 
plucking out their facial hair with tweezers, a prac- 
tical alternative to shaving because native Americans 
do not have heavy beards. These tweezers, generally 
crescent shaped, in some cases may have served as 
pendants attached to necklaces. They were usually 
of copper, occasionally of gold. The elegant crescent 
form of item 171, case 39 extends to represent a 

Chimu beaker 

Moche puma 

Moche tweezer ornament 

double-headed serpent. Depilatory tweezers were 
often used in conjunction with polished stone mirrors 
to complete the ancient Peruvian "shaving" kit. 

In many parts of the New World, metal figurines 
and other three-dimensional objects were made by 
casting in molds formed around a wax model of the 
figure. The nest of the stingless American honey bee 
provided the wax. 

Where wax was not readily available, as on the 
Peruvian coast, the production of figures in the round 
required a very different approach. Goldsmiths ham- 
mered sheets of gold into three-dimensional forms, 
often shaping them around models or molds made of 
wood or stone. The preformed sheets of gold were 
joined mechanically, as with staples or folded-over 
tabs, or metallurgically, joining the two pieces by a 
form of welding or by soldering through introduction 
of molten metal between them. 

Moche jaguar 

The exquisite small Moche jaguar (item 165, case 
54, in the technology section) exemplifies this ap- 
proach to the production of hollow figures. The figure 
is one of a group of at least seven essentially iden- 
tical jaguars created in the same workshop, per- 
haps by the same goldsmith, and buried inside a 
mummy bundle washed out of a pyramid in the Lam- 
bayeque Valley in 1925. Several of these matched 

jaguars have now been studied in detail, demon- 
strating the intricacy of their structure. Each con- 
sists of twelve separate pieces. Upper and lower parts 
of the body were separately hammered over molds 
and the two parts then joined by soldering. The same 
molds served to shape all of the animals. The front 
legs, tails and ears were each formed in halves and 
welded together. The completed appendages were 
then inserted into openings prepared for them in the 
body and secured by solder. Our knowledge of ex- 
actly how this jaguar was produced makes it one of 
the most fascinating articles ever found in Peru. 

NAZCA: Circa 200-500 A.D. 

The Nazca culture on the south coast did not pro- 
duce gold objects in the great quantity of the north. 
Stylistically, their art is also quite distinct from that 
of the Moche. Although both styles are rich in animal 
motifs, the realism so characteristic of Moche re- 
mains largely absent in Nazca. Theirs was a style of 
delicate cut-metal sheets, and the figures they de- 
signed were more fanciful than realistic. Both the 
delicacy of the work and the use of extensions around 
the borders of masks and other pieces bring to mind 
the fine Nazca pottery and even the famous outlines 
of gigantic figures engraved in the desert earth of the 
Nazca plain. 

The mask chosen for the introduction of the ex- 
hibit (item 1, case 1) illustrates this delicacy of form. 
It represents a human face surrounded by serpents 
as hair. The four perforations suggest that it was 
originally affixed to a mummy bundle. 

The same vibrant lightness typical of the mask 
can be seen in the unusual sheet-gold birds or bats 
(items 184 and 185, case 42). The antennalike fea- 
tures projecting from the head may represent the 
bristles of a bird related to the whippoorwill. But it 
is not impossible that the head of a butterfly was 
combined with a bird's body; the use of curious ani- 
mal imagery appears commonly in Nazca art. Most of 
the huge figures on the plain reflect these fanciful 
motifs, which also occur frequently in the ceramics 

VICUS: Circa 220 B.C.-300 A.D. 

The oldest objects in this exhibit come from the 
Vicus area, near the border of Ecuador. The Vicus 
culture was discovered quite recently, and both its 
date and cultural relationships remain uncertain. 
Already advanced in metallurgy, the Vicus provided 
a bridge between the beginning phases of Peruvian 
goldworking and the more developed stages demon- 
strated by the Moche. 

Vicus gold is elegant in its simplicity. Metalwork- 
ers cut sheets of gold into basic forms and decorated 
them with simple impressed and embossed designs. 
Much of the decoration is abstract and geometric, 
but animal forms often appear. 

Many items which would later become so impor- 
tant in the catalogue of Peruvian gold were already 
present in Vicus — most notably earspools and nose 
ornaments. These latter were attached to the nasal 
septum between the nostrils. They were large, usual- 
ly completely covering the mouth. Though very dif- 
ferent stylistically, in concept they resembled the 
Nazca mouth masks. Distant geographically, the 
two cultures probably overlapped in time. 

The surface of some of the finest Vicus nose orna- 
ments show silver on one half and gold on the other. 
The use of the two colors is symmetrical, as in the 
V-shaped piece adorned with a human face and two 
squirrels (item 200, case 49). Note that the sym- 
metry and opposition of the design also carries 
through to the contrasting bands near the top. 

Nazca bird 

and textiles. They are successors to themes encoun- 
tered in the fabulous embroideries of the Paracas 
civilization which flourished in the region earlier. 

The story of ancient Peruvian gold is far from 
complete. Its origins still must be traced, its complex 
technology better understood and the meanings of 
its mysterious uses deciphered. But even the small 
sample that survives makes evident that goldwork- 
ing in pre-Columbian Peru represents a very special 
moment in the history of this most durable and valu- 
able of metals. Craig Morris 



Museum of 
r Natural 

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