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!

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    • 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

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      • 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

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      • 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?

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  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.

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  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

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  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

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  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

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This week we’re highlighting the work of our #AfricanRockArt image project. The project team are now in the third year of cataloguing, and have uploaded around 19,000 digital photographs of rock art from all over #Africa to the Museum’s collection online database.

This photograph shows an engraving of a large, almost life-sized elephant, found on the Messak Plateau in #Libya. This region is home to tens of thousands of depictions, and is best known for larger-than-life-size engravings of animals such as elephants, rhino and a now extinct species of buffalo. This work of rock art most likely comes from the Early Hunter Period and could be up to 12,000 years old.

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Come face to face with the ancient Egyptian god Hapy for yourself in our‪ #SunkenCities exhibition, until 27 November 2016.

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A bilingual decree found in 1881 refers in its Greek inscription to ‘the Temple of Heracleion’ and in hieroglyphs to ‘the Temple of Amun-Gereb’. Together these objects revealed that Thonis and Heracleion were the same place.

Learn more about the deep connections between the great ancient civilisations of Egypt and Greece in our #SunkenCities exhibition.
Stela commissioned by Nectanebo I (r. 380–362 BC), Thonis-Heracleion, Egypt, 380 BC. © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation. For centuries nobody suspected that the #SunkenCities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus lay beneath the sea. Recorded in ancient writings and Greek mythology, the ancient Egyptian cities were believed to be lost.

Over the last 20 years, world-renowned archaeologist Franck Goddio and his team have excavated spectacular underwater discoveries using the latest technologies. The amazing rediscovery of these lost cities is transforming our understanding of the deep connections between the great ancient civilisations of Egypt and Greece.

See more magical moments of discovery in our #SunkenCities exhibition, until 27 November 2016. © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation.

#archaeology #diving #ancientEgypt This week we’re highlighting some of the incredible clocks and watches on display in the Museum. Mechanical clocks first appeared in Europe at some time between 1200 and 1300. Their introduction coincided with a growing need to regulate the times of Christian prayer in the monasteries. Telling the time with a sundial was especially difficult in western Europe with its unreliable weather. From the end of the 13th century, clocks were being installed in cathedrals, abbeys and churches all around Europe.

The design of turret clocks (public clocks) changed little over the following three centuries and this particular example, made around 1600, has similar characteristics to clocks made for churches in the medieval period. The maker of this clock was Leonard Tenant, one of the most prolific makers of church clocks in the first half of the 17th century. The clock was installed in Cassiobury Park, a country house near Watford.

See this incredible clock in Rooms 38-39 
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This photograph shows a detail from a night clock by Pietro Tomasso Campani made in 1683. When it is dark, light from an oil lamp behind the dial shines through the cut-out Roman numerals enabling the time to be read. Each hour, the numeral for that hour moves round the dial. This ‘wandering hour’ dial was invented by the makers of this clock.

You can see this clock in a new display of clocks and watches in our Members’ Room, just one of the many benefits of becoming a Member of the British Museum. Find out more about Membership at www.britishmuseum.org/membership
#clock #watch #nightclock #horology
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