I have used the word treasure in my title because of its modern day connotation and its reference to gold, however to indigenous Pre-Columbian civilizations minerals such as gold, silver, platinum and emeralds were regarded as workable materials like clay. They were commodities with which to make symbolic offerings to their gods. They wore these gold adornments when they went into battle, for ceremonial purposes, and finely their loved ones were buried with them.
To the Spanish that colonized South America the indigenous people were regarded with distain and as being inferior. But the truth is that they had complex and organized societies; Societies with hierarchies and systems of centralized power. They had skilled crafts people that produced textiles and handcrafts since around 300 B.C, the quality of which rivaled any ancient civilization. They systematically cultivated the land, understood and made full use of its resources; their principle crop being maize. In short they did perfectly well before the Spanish conquest.
Clearly there were grave conflicts of interest between the Spanish and indigenous people. This ultimately led to the demise and destruction of the indigenous population and with them much of the evidence of their existence. After independence from Spain in 1810 Colombian's needed a sense of national identity and pride. And so they began to look to the past and Pre-Columbian civilization. In 1824 the National Museum was founded and formed the bases for scientific studies in Colombia with detailed descriptions of archeological sites. The most important of which being the San Agustin region.
Ear ornaments made by Zenu people of the Caribbean area.
The 19th century was the age of awareness and an increasing interest in Pre-Columbian culture developed, not just for Colombians but for the rest of the world. In 1944 the Banco de la Republica opened the Museo de Oro with a collection of over four thousand Pre-Columbian gold artifacts. Later textiles and ceramic handcrafts were added. In the subsequent years that followed temporary exhibition such as The Legend of El Dorado and many others including those from other South American countries have been held at the museum. The museum regularly stages exhibitions at major cities around the world.
Known as the Bolsa de Guatavita, this goldwork represents a chief on a raft and was made by Tairona indians.
Since the Pre-Hispanic goldworks and their style’s are specific to different regions of Colombia, the museum opened eight, now seven regional museums in order to make the goldworks more accessible for education, and to instill pride in local communities. In 1971 Banco de la Republica founded National Archeological Investigations. An organization dedicated to preserving and excavating archeological sites. There was also the issue that many archeological sites had been desecrated by grave robbers and many goldworks had been melted down. Also artworks had been illegally exported from Colombia and were in private collection around the world. The founding of the NAI was to help retrieve those important items for the museum.
Pre-Hispanic indigenous groups of Colombia: The south west of Colombia can be divided into eight indigenous groups. The Quimbaya, Calima, San Agustín, Tierradentro, Tumaco, Tolima, the Nariño people; whose territory extended into today’s northern Ecuador, and most recently the Malagana civilization was added to southwestern Colombia. The north of Colombia can be divided into three groups. The Zenu, Tairona and the Muisca.
All photos by Javier Ulises Rojas.