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Precolombian goldworking of the Chibchan Area

The Chavin culture of modern Peru began to work gold and other metals as early as 1200- 500 B.C. In fact a primary reason why conquistadores came to the Americas was to find and obtain gold from the native peoples either through trade or tribute. Gold has been a unique and vastly important commodity for both prehistoric Chibchan and contemporary people. Gold is considered to be incorruptible because it does not oxidize and its chemical nature can not be changed without human manipulation. Another characteristic of gold is that, in comparison with other metals, and certainly with jade, it is quite malleablemeaning it can be shaped easily. Its color, brilliance, and its aural qualities were also important for Chibchan. There are, however, some indications that gold had curative properties for Chibchan peoples. For example, groups who lived in Colombia would use gold to make poporos that held their lime and held great religious significance for their mamas, who were the spiritual and political leaders for the community.

The Chibchan peoples were so adept at working with gold that they invented a technique of working gold that was developed in other places in history and is still used today: lost-wax casting. Furthermore, with the use of lost wax casting, the Chibchan people were no longer using pure gold, but a gold and copper alloy called tumbaga. Using both gold, and copper (associated with femaleness as well as mortality) was possibly understood as a spiritual mixing of men and women (Falchetti 347-348). Tumbaga, when compared to pure gold, is harder, making it harder to work without heating it. Tumbaga also has a lower melting point making it easier to work with, and finally tumbaga has a redder color which is comparable to the rising or setting sun.


Jeffery Quilter and John W. Hoopes, eds. Gold and Power in Ancient Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia (Dumbarton Oaks Pre-Columbian Conference Proceedings). Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2003. ISBN 0-88402-294-3.

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