Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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All That Glitters... Volume 54 Number 6, November/December 2001
by Colleen Popson

Peru's Museo de Oro, one of the country's most popular tourist attractions and purported home to 20,000 artifacts of gold and silver, among other materials, has closed under intense academic and public scrutiny. Acting on a tip that pieces in the museum are fake, Peru's Consumer Protection Commission (INDECOPI) found that up to 85 percent of the museum's pieces may be knock-offs. This, in addition to the conspicuous failure of the museum to provide full provenience for many of its objects, brings the integrity of the museum's collection into serious question.

While archaeologists working in Peru have suspected for some time that many of the gold artifacts housed in the museum were fakes, no one said anything until talk spread of a plan to have the collection tour foreign countries. Hoping to avoid embarrassment for Peru and its cultural heritage, "those in the know decided they could no longer ignore the obvious," says William Isbell of the University of Binghamton.

Large numbers of people come to the museum every year to see what they assume are legitimately acquired, authentic artifacts from the Paracas, Chavín, Nazca, Moche, Huari, and Inca cultures, among others. According to a statement by INDECOPI, in order to maintain its museum status, the Museo de Oro must reclassify the pieces that are not originals using one of the three following definitions: "pieces of modern manufacture..., modern pieces using archaeological materials, and pieces pertaining to the archaeological heritage"--surely not quite as impressive as the former labels.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America