Because of its unique qualities, gold had spiritual meaning in many ancient civilizations. To the Sumerians, gold was divine and it was used to make sacred instruments for the temples. In early Egypt, gold was part of the sacred sphere, the solar metal. The pharaoh was the sun god Horus and gold was considered God’s body turned to metal. An amazing assortment of gold jewelry including gold necklaces, rings, crowns, earrings, and vests was found in abundance from ‘mummies’ or the dead bodies that had been carefully embalmed and preserved. The vest was a thick gold plate that was popularly worn around the chest during that time.
In Pre-Columbian cultures goldsmiths invented a variety of techniques and styles of metallurgy most notably in the Andean region, Central America, and Mesoamerica, where there was an abundance of gold and other metals. The richest gold deposits were in Colombia and are still productive today. The Incas believed that there was a Creator of all things. The sun was their sovereign god, represented as a man, Viracocha, to whom they erected great temples and effigies of solid gold, while the reigning Inca was the divine incarnation of the deity and revered as the “son of the Sun” for whom great palaces and effigies were constructed too. Gold took on value only when crafted into ceremonial articles – vessels, jewelry, figurines – or adornments for tombs and temples.
The ancient Aztecs had an extreme appreciation for gold. In fact, golden pieces of jewelry were made purposely for sacred offerings and only nobility was allowed to wear jewelry made of gold usually decorated with bird feathers. In the Aztec language, the name for gold is “Teocuitlatl,” which means “excrement of the gods.” Perhaps the name refers to the way in which veins and nuggets of gold might appear to be extruded from the bowels of the earth.
Pre-Columbian jewelry left a deep impression on humankind, as it embodies both know-how and creativity and the memory of identities and lost rites of many Peruvian cultures, including Chavín, Vicús, Moche, Lambayeque, Chimú and Inca.