British Museum blog

Exploring the lost kingdoms of South America

Tortora reed boat, Lake Titicaca, 1970sLeonora Duncan and Jago Cooper, British Museum

South America has witnessed the emergence of some of the most intriguing and diverse ancient cultures in the world.

Four of these dynamic and fascinating cultures are being explored in a BBC Four series, Lost Kingdoms of South America, which starts broadcasting on Monday 14 January at 21.00. The series explores the different pathways to social complexity taken in four cultural regions of South America long before Europeans arrived over the horizon.

Here at the British Museum, the South American collection includes over 50,000 objects collected over the past 350 years. These treasures reveal some fascinating stories about the diverse cultures that existed for over 12,000 years before the arrival of Columbus and many of which continue to thrive today.

Tunjo, Muisca, AD 600-1600

Tunjo, Muisca, AD 600-1600

We wanted to draw attention to some of the amazing objects in the collection that can help tell the stories of the four cultures featured in the BBC Four series. New thematic content on the Museum website takes a look at how the Chachapoya, Tiwanaku, Muisca/Tairona, and Chimu lived in completely different environments, from the Amazon to the Andes, from desert to the Caribbean coast and yet all had in common the highest of cultural achievements.

Tortora reed boat, Lake Titicaca, 1970s

Tortora reed boat, Lake Titicaca, 1970s

However, what is particularly interesting is that they all took different routes to developing social complexity building on trade, agriculture, craftsmanship and warfare respectively. Each of the objects we’ve chosen contributes its own individual story to this narrative revealing in all their wonderment the truth behind the rise of the Lost Kingdoms of South America.

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Explore the featured kingdoms and related objects in the British Museum collection, or for more information contact Leonora Duncan or Jago Cooper in the Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas

Lost Kingdoms of South America is on BBC Four at 21.00 on Mondays from 14 January

Filed under: Archaeology, Collection, What's on, , ,

8 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. Earlier this week in the article “El Dorado: The truth behind the myth” by By Dr Jago Cooper
    published by BBC Magazine (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20964114 ) with collaboration of Leonora Duncan, there’s a short time line with information related to South America in which you wrote “1772 Scientist Alexander von Humboldt and botanist Aimé Bonpland travel to South America to once and for all prove or dispel the myth of El Dorado. They return to Europe and spread widely their believed conclusion that El Dorado had been nothing but a dream of the early conquistadors” We all know Herr Humboldt was a man that from a young age took great interest in science and exploration…but he was 3 years old! He and Mr Bonpland started their famous voyage in 1799.
    Need I remind you you are working in one of the most prestigious cultural institutions of the world!

    Like

    • Thank you so much for your eagle-eyed observation of the erroneous date in the sidebar of the recent article on El Dorado on the BBC website, I shall be sure to forward the correct date to the BBC editor to see if they can make the change.

      Jago Cooper, British Museum

      Like

      • Philip Seely says:

        Dear Dr Cooper

        Re. GUAYABO, COSTA RICA
        I visited the fascinating archaeological site of Guayabo in the central volcanic highlands of Costa Rica a couple of years ago. When I saw your programme about Colombia I was rather struck by the similarities between Guayabo and La Ciudad Perdida. Guayabo too has circular building platforms, plazas and processional ways – and it is in a magnificent jungle setting too.
        In the capital, San Jose, there are two very interesting museums – the Jade Museum and the Gold Museum. The former shows jade artefacts that show the influence of Mesoamerican (indeed Mayan) cultural influences, both in the style and choice of material. In the Gold Museum, by contrast, the artefacts strongly resemble the gold Tairona objects you showed us in your programme.
        Costa Rica clearly was a kind of ethno-cultural border region between the jade-loving cultures of Mesoamerica to the north, and the gold-loving cultures of Colombia to the south.
        I think the archaeology of Costa Rica is not as appreciated internationally as it deserves to be – and indeed probably deserves more consideration locally too. I would love to see you do a programme on the subject. Any chance of the BBC sending you that way some time for more ‘Lost Kingdoms’?

        Philip Seely
        London NW3

        Like

      • LizzyH says:

        Dear Jago
        It was absolutely brilliant seeing the images of Bogotá, La Laguna de Guatavita and Villa de Leiva the other week. I lived in Colombia for nearly 4 years and have worked and travelled in Chile, Argentina, Peru and Ecuador. It’s giving me serious wander lust again….ho hum maybe when the kids are older. PS hablas muy bien el español. Dónde lo aprendiste?

        Like

  2. alina says:

    i saw recently on History Chanel a documentary about ancient aliens, they portrait a interesting theory, the tuinja musca reminds me of an ancient astronaut found sculpture found on the Aztec empire.

    Like

  3. Diana lambton says:

    Dear Jago,
    I inherited some stones, which i have been told are either pre-mexican or polynesean but as to date i have been unable to find out their exact origins, can i send you some pictures of them please
    Kind Regards

    Like

  4. Christina says:

    Dear Jago
    Your recent series brings back a lot of memories from our time spent in Bolivia and Peru in 2008-9. It was a wonderful series, we learned so much (we had visited a lot of the places featured and thought we were pretty clued up, but it turns out we were not!). Please please do more as soon as possible! We love South America and we loved your tv series!
    Christina

    Like

  5. Ricky Fairs says:

    Dear Jago,
    It seemed to me the very interesting program about the culture at Tiwanaku was somewhat coy about the ritual snuffing of hallucinogenics as compared to ritual drinking of beer. Was that because we dont know what they were snuffing?
    Ricky

    Like

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 10,315 other followers

Categories

Follow @britishmuseum on Twitter

British Museum on Instagram

This is our next gallery space in the #MuseumOfTheFuture series. It's Room 64, the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery of Early Egypt. Rapid advances in the technology and social organisation of Egypt during the 5th millennium BC produced a material culture of increasing sophistication. Further innovations followed in about 3100 BC when the separate Predynastic peoples of Upper and Lower Egypt were united under a single ruler. The resulting increase in wealth and strong central control led to dramatic achievements in architecture, writing and fine goods, culminating in the building of the Great Pyramids of Giza in around 2600 BC.
Objects on display in Room 64 illustrate the cultural, technological and political development of early civilisation in Egypt throughout this period. In this picture you can see Gebelein Man, a mummy who was naturally preserved in the desert sands, and who used to have the unofficial nickname of Ginger (although the Museum doesn't use this name). In the background you can see an interactive virtual autopsy of the mummy which was installed in the newly refurbished gallery last year. It's Toulouse-Lautrec's 150th birthday! Here's his poster for a Parisian cabaret 
#history #art #artist #Paris Although this gilded cartonnage mask of a mummy conveys vitality and alertness, the features are more bland and idealised than those of other masks. The eyes, ears, nose, mouth and chin are highly stylised and not fully integrated into the face. The collar, the wig and the necklace with an ankh (‘life’) pendant, are attributes showing that the deceased has entered the afterlife and been assimilated with the gods. A winged scarab beetle on the top and images of gods on the back also emphasise the funerary character of the mask.

The use of gold was connected to the belief that the sun god Re, with whom the mummy hoped to be united, had flesh of pure gold. The back of the wig is decorated in many colours, with a row of deities, a ba and falcon with outstretched wings and seven short columns of near-unintelligible hieroglyphs.

See this cartonnage mask in our exhibition #8mummies – now extended until 19 April 2015.
#MummyMonday #mummies Another #MummyMonday space: it's Room 63 – together with Room 62 known as the Roxie Walker Galleries of Egyptian death and afterlife: mummies. Possibly the most famous galleries in the Museum, they are the next spaces in our #MuseumOfTheFuture series. Death and the afterlife held particular significance and meaning for the ancient Egyptians. Complex funeral preparations and rites were thought to be needed to ensure the transition of the individual from earthly existence to immortality.
Mummification, magic and ritual are investigated through the objects on display in Rooms 62–63. These include coffins, mummies, funerary masks, portraits and other items designed to be buried with the deceased. Modern research methods such as x-rays and CT scans are used to examine the mummification process. As it's #MummyMonday here's Room 62 – together with Room 63 known as the Roxie Walker Galleries of Egyptian death and afterlife: mummies. Possibly the most famous galleries in the Museum, they are the next spaces in our #MuseumOfTheFuture series. Death and the afterlife held particular significance and meaning for the ancient Egyptians. Complex funeral preparations and rites were thought to be needed to ensure the transition of the individual from earthly existence to immortality.
Mummification, magic and ritual are investigated through the objects on display in Rooms 62–63. These include coffins, mummies, funerary masks, portraits and other items designed to be buried with the deceased. Modern research methods such as x-rays and CT scans are used to examine the mummification process. It's time for our next #MuseumOfTheFuture gallery space. This is Room 61, the Michael Cohen Gallery of Egyptian life and death (the tomb-chapel of Nebamun). The British Museum acquired 11 wall-paintings from the tomb-chapel of a wealthy Egyptian official called Nebamun in the 1820s. Dating from about 1350 BC, they are some of the most famous works of art from ancient Egypt.
Following a 10-year period of conservation and research, the paintings were put on display together for the first time in 2009. They give the impression of the walls of colour that would have been experienced by the ancient visitors to the tomb-chapel.
Objects dating from the same time period and a 3D animation of the tomb-chapel help to set the tomb-chapel in context and show how the finished tomb would have looked. (There is no Room 60 in the British Museum.)
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,315 other followers

%d bloggers like this: