Gold of the Ancient Americas

The earliest evidence of worked gold in the Americas appears around 2000 BC from the region near the Lake Titicaca at the modern border between Bolivia and Peru. From there, the use of gold spread slowly northward up the coast over many centuries. By 100 BC it was in regular use by the Calima culture of western Colombia and continued to move north though Central America and into Mexico.

Unlike in many ancient civilizations around the world, soft metals (gold, silver and copper) were not used in the early Americas as direct currency, rather, they were fashioned into ceremonial objects or wearable ornaments conveying social or religious status. Such regalia was often focused around the head, face, neck and chest, forming part of spectacular full-body costumes that included vivid textiles, feather work, shells and precious stones.

Although many Pre-Columbian gold works were plundered after the arrival of Europeans, an array of beautiful objects and ornaments survived. The pieces pictured below come from several cultures that inhabited the region that is modern day Colombia. Amazingly, these pieces can still be worn as striking jewelry today!


Figure w/Headress Colombia Sinu CultureZoomorphic Earrings - Colombia and Pre-Columbian - Calima CultureFeline Disc - Colombia and Pre-Columbian - Calima Culture - Colombia

Nariguera Colombia Calima Culture

The Baskets of Tiahuanaco

The Tiahuanaco Culture flourished in the Bolivian Altiplano south of Lake Titicaca for over a millennia. At the height of the empire, from 300 BC – 300 AD, the capital city of Tiahuanaco was the major cultural and spiritual center in the region. Tiahuanaco’s builders engineered massive stone structures and courtyards – the stages for political and religious rites.

The people of Tiahuanaco left behind artifacts of immense beauty; intricate weavings encoded with meaning, carved and inlaid implements with zoomorphic imagery and incredible finely woven baskets.

Made with dyed grass fibers, the conical baskets display colorful geometric patterns. They survived in truly amazing condition, preserved for centuries in secluded caves in the arid climate of Bolivia’s Southern Altiplano.  They  are  a  dramatic reminder of the advanced artistic traditions of the  Tiahuanaco civilization.

tiahuanaco tiwanaku woven reed basket      tiahuanaco tiwanaku woven reed basket      tiahuanaco tiwanaku woven reed basket      tiahuanaco tiwanaku woven reed basket
Primary Form: Mezcala Ancestral Figures

The Mezcala culture thrived in the modern state of Guerrero, on the west coast of southern Mexico for  six centuries (350 BC – 250 AD). Their civilization developed a simple yet sophisticated lithic tradition focused on representations of the human form.

Two millennia before Rodin, Giacometti, Brancusi and Moore, these remarkable carved stone figures are a striking embodiment of the power and presence of the essential abstract figure – the primary form.

Made of various types of stone; from highly polished Jade to monochromatic Sandstone, the Mezcala figures are an opportunity in comparative aesthetics. Through changes in scale, surface, symmetry and shape we find an array of personalities and relationships.

mezcala ancestral figures guerrero       mezcala culture guerrero