Institute of Archaeology

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Treasures Decoded: The Golden Raft of El Dorado

3 May 2013

Treasures Decoded: The Golden Raft of El Dorado

Interdisciplinary research led by Marcos Martinón-Torres and María Alice Uribe is the subject of a new film to be broadcast in the UK shortly.

The legend of El Dorado still resonates in popular culture today – as seen in numerous books, movies, songs and poems. It even gives name to Bogotá’s airport. In the sixteenth century, this dream drove countless conquistadors to futile and often deadly explorations into the mountains of Colombia, in search of the gold of El Dorado. The origins of the legend lie in the story of a Muisca ritual where the chief – ‘The Golden One’ – covered himself in gold before being carried on a raft to the centre of a sacred lake, where he made a substantial gold offering.

The legend was revived in the 1960s when a gold raft was found in Colombia, apparently depicting this ceremony and thus seemingly giving historical truth to the tale. Since then, the raft has become the most famous artefact of the Gold Museum in Bogotá and an icon of Colombian culture.

Treasures Decoded: The Golden Raft of El Dorado’ revisits El Dorado trying to uncover the truth behind the myth. At the centre of the film is the first technical and scientific study of the Muisca raft undertaken since its discovery four decades ago. Marcos Martinón-Torres, together with María Alicia Uribe (Director, Gold Museum in Bogotá and UCL alumna), leads an interdisciplinary investigation that explores how the raft was made, where the gold was obtained, and what El Dorado meant to both indigenous peoples and Europeans in sixteenth-century Colombia.  The film reveals the very different meanings that gold had for both cultures, and it explains why the Muisca were happy to throw away their sophisticated gold objects as soon as they had finished making them.

The film will be shown in the UK on Sunday 5 May at 9pm on Quest (Freeview channel 38, Sky channel 154, Virgin channel 172) and repeated on Tuesday 7 May at 10pm.

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