CitationUribe Villegas, M.A. and Martinón-Torres, M. 2012 Typology, Technology, Composition and Context of Muisca Metalwork (Colombia, AD 600-1800): a Database. Journal of Open Archaeology Data 1(1), DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/4f60dd6baa298
This database presents a compilation of previously published and unpublished data on the chemical composition of over 200 Pre-Columbian gold and gold-alloy artefacts recovered in the archaeological region inhabited by the Muisca of Colombia (AD 600-1800), in addition to 35 analyses of geological gold from Colombia. The chemical data have been supplemented with information such as museum reference codes, dimensions, typologies and dates where available, as well as aspects of the artefacts’ manufacture documented by macroscopic observation and metallographic studies. Where possible, the database also includes information relative to the specific location where the artefacts were found and their contextual associations, for example in groups of artefacts recovered as a single offering. The data allow an overview of typological, chemical, and technical aspects of this goldworking tradition but also detailed analyses on a contextual or local basis, as well as comparisons with other regions.
Spatial coverage of data
Eastern highlands of Colombia, integrating approximately the present-day departments of Cundinamarca and Boyacá. Boundaries given below are approximate.
Northern boundary: 5.3177
Southern boundary: 3.3350
Eastern boundary: -72.7899
Western boundary: -72.6470
Temporal coverage of data
AD 600 – AD 1800
Most of the data was collected from the archives of the Museo del Oro, Bogotá, Colombia, which holds the vast majority of the artefacts included in the dataset. These data include a large mass of unpublished chemical and metallographic analyses carried out by the Departamento Técnico Industrial of the Banco de la República. This dataset was completed with a literature review seeking published data on analyses of Muisca goldwork both in the Museo del Oro and in other collections such as those at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, or the British Museum, London. Typological and other relevant information was added by M.A. Uribe Villegas when this was not given in the original sources.
All the data from various sources were compiled in a single spreadsheet with the same fields using Microsoft Excel, but preserving information about the primary data source such as the analytical method employed or the bibliographic reference.
The dataset aimed to be as comprehensive as possible, including all goldwork artefacts that could be ascribed to the Muisca, based on stylistic grounds and/or their findspot. The only prerequisite was that some kind of chemical data was available.
A number of published analyses were excluded from this database because the artefacts’ authenticity, or their attribution to the Muisca, could not verified beyond reasonable doubt. Specific criteria for inclusion/exclusion and details of references excluded are detailed in 1.
The chemical data include analyses carried out employing a variety of instrumental methods with different accuracy and precision ranges, sensitivity or detection limits.
We have separated qualitative or semi-quantitative analyses (by fire assay, touchstone or density) from fully quantitative analyses (by XRF, EPMA or AAS). However, no attempt has been made at calibrating the quantitative data among different laboratories. Some caution should therefore be exercised if pooling all of these data for quantitative processing, as well as for internal or external comparisons.
A potential additional constraint relates to the fact that the data include analyses of both artefacts’ surfaces and cores (as noted in the database where possible), which might create some biases (for example, if surfaces were gilded). However, surface treatments are not common in Muisca goldwork, therefore this constraint has a relatively low incidence in the dataset.
Muisca database. Comprising: Disclaimer, Muisca data, Offerings, Native Au, C14 dates, and References
Combination of primary and secondary data in a standardised format
Format names and versions
The whole database is available as a single Microsoft Excel 2007 file (.xlsx): named Muisca_database.xlsx
This file includes six tabs, namely: Disclaimer, Muisca data, Offerings, Native Au, C14 dates, and References. These tabs are also provided as individual .txt or .csv files to facilitate open access.
2007-2010, with minor updates in 2012
María Alicia Uribe Villegas was the main compiler of data and creator of the database, in consultation with Marcos Martinón-Torres.
The data was collected from a variety of sources. The main data creator was the Departamento Técnico Industrial, Banco de La República, Bogotá, Colombia. Other data creators include the following (see References for the sources from which the data were compiled)
Falchetti, A. M.4
La Niece, S.5
Newman, R., Hill, C. and Wang, D.11
Rivet, P. and Arsandaux, H.14
Scott, D. A.15
Therrien, M. and Enciso, B.16
Vogel, J. C. and Lerman, J. C.17
UCL Discovery: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/data.1331810205
Aggregation and reference: This dataset may facilitate the identification of remaining gaps in the analytical study of Muisca goldwork. Archaeometallurgists may want to add to this dataset in a coherent manner, or test if new analyses are consistent with previous data. Museums with old collections with poor archaeological documentation may use this dataset as a reference to find comparanda for their artefacts. It is hoped that similar datasets may be compiled for other regions of Colombia and beyond, thus facilitating regional comparisons.
Further analysis and validation: Our data analyses have allowed us to explore a range of observations and hypotheses regarding Muisca metallurgists, such as the identification of specific alloy batches corresponding to individual offerings, regional patterns in alloy composition, the deliberate inclusion of a broad spectrum of compositions and colours in individual offerings, or the absence silver metallurgy118. Other scholars may wish to test further hypotheses with this dataset, or to assess the data to validate the claims made in our publications.
Teaching: students of archaeometry or archaeometallurgy may wish to use this dataset for training in graphical presentation of data and statistics, as well as to discuss the potentials, limitations and compatibility of the different analytical techniques employed.
We are greatly indebted to the staff at the Museo del Oro for their essential support, especially to Clara Isabel Botero, Roberto Lleras, Lucero Gómez, Clark Manuel Rodríguez and Jose Socarrás, as well as to the Departamento Técnico-Industrial for the provision of the bulk of the data. We would also like to acknowledge Colin McEwan and Susan La Niece at the British Museum, as well as Salvador Rovira, formely at the Museo Arqueologico Nacional, Madrid, for their constructive input.
Funding StatementThis project started thanks to a generous scholarship from the Banco de la República de Colombia given to the first author for her MA studies at the UCL Institute of Archaeology. The ongoing research is supported by a British Academy grant (SG-54242, “The Muisca metallurgist in context”).
- Uribe Villegas, M. A. in press. Contexto, significado y color en la selección de materiales en la orfebrería muisca. Un estudio analítico e interpretativo de la composición química de artefactos muiscas de metal. Bogotá: Boletín de Arqueología, Fundación de Investigaciones Arqueológicas Nacionales, Banco de la República.
- Bray, W. 1978. The Gold of El Dorado (exhibition catalogue). London: Times Newspapers Limited and The Royal Academy of Arts.
- Cárdenas, F. 1990. La momia de Pisba, Boyacá. Boletín Museo del Oro 27: 3-14.
- Falchetti, A M. 1989. Orfebrería prehispánica en el altiplano central colombiano. Boletín Museo del Oro 25: 3-42.
- La Niece, S., 1998. Metallurgical Case Studies from the British Museum's Collections of pre-Hispanic Gold. Boletín Museo del Oro 44-5: 139-59.
- Lleras, R. 2007. Cordillera Oriental. Unpublished ACCESS database. Museo del Oro, Banco de la República, Bogotá.
- Lleras-Pérez, R. 1999. Prehispanic Metallurgy and Votive Offerings in the Eastern Cordillera Colombia. BAR International Series 778. Oxford: Archaeopress.
- Londoño, E. 1986. Un mensaje del tiempo de los Muiscas: el caso de un ofrendatario Muisca encontrado en Fontibón. Boletín Museo del Oro 16: 48-57.
- McBride, J. 1985. San Carlos, Excavación de un sitio ceremonial muisca en Cota, Cundinamarca. Unpublished Field Semester Report, Departamento de Antropología, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá.
- Meeks, N. 1998. Pre-Hispanic goldwork in the British Museum’s collections: Some recent technological studies. Boletín Museo del Oro 44-5: 107-137.
- Newman, R., C. Hill and D. Wang. 1991. Pre-Columbian Muisca Tunjos: A Technical Re-examination. Archeomaterials 5: 209-29.
- Plazas, C. 1975. Nueva metodología para la clasificación de orfebrería prehispánica: aplicación en una muestra de figuras antropomorfas (tunjos). Bogotá: Plazas Editor.
- Plazas, C. 1998. Cronología de la metalurgia colombiana. Boletín Museo delOro 44-5: 3-77.
- Rivet, P. and H. Arsandaux. 1946. La métallurgie en Amérique précolombienne. Travaux et Mémoires de l’Institute d’Ethnologie, XXXIX. Paris: Institut d’Ethnologie.
- Scott, D. A. 1982. Pre-Hispanic Colombian metallurgy: studies of some gold and platinum alloys. 3 Vols. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of London.
- Therrien, M. and B. Enciso. 1991. Una reinvestigación arqueológica en la Sabana de Bogotá. Boletín Museo del Oro 31: 130-131.
- Vogel, J. C. and J. C. Lerman. 1969. Groningen Radiocarbon dates VIII. Radiocarbon 11/2: 351-90
- Uribe Villegas, M. A. and M. Martinón-Torres. 2012. Composition, colour and context in Muisca votive metalwork. Antiquity 86.