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date: 16 November 2019

Muisca [Chibcha]locked

  • Warwick Bray
  •  and Trent Barnes



Pre-Columbian people of the high plateaux of the Eastern Cordillera of Colombia, around Bogotá and Tunja. They flourished from c. ad 800 to the 16th century, when the Spaniards found a dense aboriginal population that, in terms of social, religious, and political complexity, had evolved beyond the level of neighbouring groups. Historical documents describe palisaded towns whose rulers and temple priests were rich in gold items and emeralds, many of which they deposited in shrines, caches, or sacred lagoons. Lake Guatavita was a place of supreme power. On taking office, each new chief was consecrated there in a splendid ceremony: coated with resin and covered with gold dust, he was rowed out into the lagoon on a raft laden with offerings; there the gifts were thrown into the water and the new ruler submerged to wash off his gilded body. This ceremony probably lies behind the many legends of ‘El Dorado’ (‘The gilded man’), and votive offerings have been recovered during various attempts to drain Lake Guatavita. Muisca archaeology is unspectacular, for the wooden buildings and most artefacts of organic origin have disappeared. Beside pottery and stone tools, finds include a few crude stone statues, human mummies, textiles, and wooden idols from burials in dry caves, and many little votive ...

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