El Dorado: The truth behind the myth

Seated female poporo, Quimbaya, gold alloy, AD600-1100. 'El Dorado' is Spanish for 'the golden one' but the phrase does not refer to a place, instead, a person. It is the name of the new Muisca tribal chief and refers to the ritual he must perform to become the indigenous tribe's king. According to legend he covers himself with gold dust, placed him on a raft and paddled out on the Guatavita Lake. At his feet were heaps of gold and jewels which he offered to the gods by throwing them in the lake. Through this ritual he became the new ruler. (The Trustees of the British Museum)

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For centuries European invaders were infatuated with 'El Dorado', the fabled city of gold, in what is now known as Colombia. Countless attempts to find the city and exploit its riches led many an explorer on a wild goose chase and even caused Sir Walter Raleigh's demise.
But 'El Dorado' was real in as far as it refers to a ritual that took place at Lake Guatavita, near modern Bogotá.
The British Museum's exhibition 'Beyond El Dorado: power and gold in ancient Colombia', will display some of the fascinating objects excavated from the lake in the early 20th century, including ceramics and stone necklaces.
The exhibition opens October 17 and runs until March 23, 3014.

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