Gold Treasures in the Skeppsholmen Caverns

The exhibition was shown 10 September – 12 February 2012

In INCA, we were turning our attention to South America, to the Empire of the Incas and their predecessors. Extraordinary gold and silver artefacts from Peru, tell the story of the old Indian cultures' unique relationship with these precious metals. It is also the story of the search for El Dorado, the land of gold, and the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire.

The previously secret Skeppsholmen Caverns and the setting for the exhibition created a suggestive environment for the 300 or so objects on loan from 15 Peruvian museums. They created a dazzling impression of the symbolic power of gold, but also conveyed a sense of the enormous riches of the Incas: gold treasures that would later become one of the reasons for the decline of their culture as the Spanish Conquistadors conquered and colonised South America in the search for El Dorado, the land of gold.

The Inca Empire was the zenith of several highly-advanced civilisations in the Andes, in western South America during a period of around 3,500 years (around 2,000 BC-1532 AD). During its height, which only lasted around 100 years (1400-1533), the Inca Empire stretched from western Ecuador to Chile, from the high plateaus of the Andes to the desert-like coastal areas along the Pacific Ocean. Prior to this, more than ten Indian civilisations had succeeded one another in the region. The exhibition featured objects from several of these cultures. Common to them all were the strong ties to precious metals.

In such a complex environment with recurring climatic disasters, there was a huge, pressing need for ritual ceremonies to placate the gods. The majority of the objects on display in the exhibition were burial and sacrificial finds that emphasise the importance of the symbolic power of gold for ritual expression. For the Incas, gold was also closely associated with the sun god Inti and the emperor was regarded as a living incarnation of the sun.

In 2011 it was fifty years since Incan gold artefacts were last exhibited in Stockholm and so this offered a rare opportunity to see this unique collection, which also included the very latest discoveries. These objects are evidence of a rich culture and the technical skill of the goldsmiths of the time. These Indian cultures developed unique local handicrafts over thousands of years, apparently without any contact with the cultures of other continents. In addition to gold, a selection of textile and ceramic objects, as well as mummies, were also on show.