British Museum to unveil Peruvian antiquities exhibit in November

Miniature gold figure of a llama, Peru, Inca, about 1500. © 2021 The Trustees of the British Museum

Miniature gold figure of a llama, Peru, Inca, about 1500. © 2021 The Trustees of the British Museum

LONDON – A landmark loan of ancient objects will travel from Peru to the British Museum for a major new exhibition on the ancient cultures of the South American country. Nine Peruvian museums have loaned more than 40 remarkable objects – some dating from over 3,000 years ago, and most never having traveled to the UK before – will come to London for Peru: a journey in time, which opens November 11 and continues through February 20, 2022.

The special exhibition explores the thousands of years that humans have lived in the remarkable landscapes of the Andes mountains and beyond. It is the first major exhibition the British Museum has ever staged on Peru. It coincides with the 200th anniversary of the country’s independence and is supported by PROMPERU.

Gold alloy headdress with elaborate feline heads, Peru, 800–550 BCE. Museo Kuntur Wasi.

Gold alloy headdress with elaborate feline heads, Peru, 800–550 BCE. Museo Kuntur Wasi.

From the early culture of Chavin in 1200 BCE, up to the fall of the Incas in 1532, the exhibition will chart the rise and fall of six little-known and yet extraordinary societies. Visitors will discover how people thrived in one of the most challenging and geographically diverse regions in the world, adapting to landscapes ranging from arid deserts along the Pacific coast, high mountains across the Andes and tropical forests in the Amazon in the east.

Cecilia Pardo, co-curator of Peru: a journey in time, said, “While the Incas are one of the most well-known civilizations from Peru, they were actually relatively recent in terms of the long history of this region. We’ll be taking visitors back many thousands of years earlier, to show how the extraordinary past cultures of Peru were shaped by unique ways of living within the landscapes of the central Andes, one of the cradles of world civilisation. They’ll discover the story of how these ancient Peruvian societies had unique approaches to economy, gender, agriculture, power and beliefs, and how they thrived against the odds right up until the Inca conquest by the Spanish. It will be eye-opening, and will challenge common Western assumptions about how societies are constructed.”

Gold alloy and shell ear plates with feline features, Peru, 800–550 BCE. Museo Kuntur Wasi

Gold alloy and shell ear plates with feline features, Peru, 800–550 BCE. Museo Kuntur Wasi

Highlights among the objects coming from Peru include a stunning 2,500-year-old gold headdress and pair of ear plates which were part of an elite burial found at the site of Kuntur Wasi, Cajamarca. They are decorated with embossed motifs of human faces with feline fangs and snakes’ appendages. Also making the journey to the British Museum is a striking ceremonial drum from around 100 BCE – 650 featuring a depiction of the capture of defeated enemies in ritual combat, one of the principal scenes of the Nasca people’s worldview.

Pottery ceremonial drum depicting a mythical scene, Peru, Nasca, 100 BC – 650. Private collection on loan to the Museo de Arte de Lima. Photo by Daniel Giannoni

Pottery ceremonial drum depicting a mythical scene, Peru, Nasca, 100 BC – 650. Private collection on loan to the Museo de Arte de Lima. Photo by Daniel Giannoni

The oldest object on loan will be a ceremonial vessel from the Cupisnique culture, which flourished along what is now Peru’s northern Pacific coast, and is thought to date from up to 1200 BCE. It is in the shape of a contorted human body, possibly representing someone born with a disease which causes symptoms such as loose joints and unusual flexibility, which was a revered ability in this culture.

Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum, said: “A single step through the front doors of the British Museum is always the first step on a journey, and with this exhibition we invite visitors to travel through the history of one of the most captivating regions in the world. The scale of the generous loan of ancient objects from museums in Peru is unprecedented and a landmark opportunity to see them here in the UK. The fascinating range of material on display collectively challenges perceptions of how the world can be viewed and understood. We are grateful for the support of PROMPERU for making it all possible.”

The exhibition will progress chronologically through six sections and will bring the past into the present. The first, Living Landscapes, will explore the way Andean people have adapted to the difficult environment in the region. It will show how for Andean people, nature itself is a living being, sustaining all life and woven into shared belief systems where the natural and supernatural worlds are intimately connected. Visitors will then discover Early cultures and the Chavin (1200–500 BCE), before the following section looking at life and death in the desert and how the Paracas and Nasca peoples lived along the south coast of Peru, one of the most arid places on the planet.

Copper and shell funerary mask, Peru, Moche, 100–800. Museo de Arte de Lima, Peru. Donated by James Reid.

Copper and shell funerary mask, Peru, Moche, 100–800. Museo de Arte de Lima, Peru. Donated by James Reid.

The next step on the journey will focus on the Moche (100–800) and the Chimu, (1000–1400) who dominated along the coast and inland valleys of northern Peru. This is followed by a section looking at the two great empires of the highlands of the Central Andes, the Wari (600–900) and Inca (1400–1532). The exhibition’s journey ends with a look at the Andean legacy, and how Peru today reflects a combination of cultures, religions and transformations from the past 3,000 years.

Peru: a journey in time is organised with the Museo de Arte de Lima, Peru, one of the most important museums in the country. The other lenders from Peru are: Ministry of Culture of Peru; The Gartner Collection; Fundacion Temple Radicati — Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos; Complejo Arqueologico El Brujo | Fundacion Augusto N. Wiese; Museo ‘Santiago Uceda Castillo’ — Proyecto Arqueologico Huacas de Moche, Peru; Museo Kuntur Wasi; MUSEO LARCO, LIMA, Peru; Museo Nacional de Arqueologia, Antropologia e Historia del Peru; and the Museo Textil Precolombino Amano – Lima-Peru.

Visit the website of The British Museum and see its dedicated page for Peru: a journey in time.