The most popular museum in Peru, the Gold Museum in Lima, is at the heart of an argument which is stirring archaeologists the world over, but is also stirring the Peruvian government.
The Gold Museum was established 20 years ago and prided itself on possessing one of the largest collections of pre-Columbian gold in the world. However, in July, after more than four months of tests carried out by specialists at the Catholic University of Peru, the museum was examined by the Instituto de Defensa de la Competencia y la Propriedad Intelectual (Institute for the defence of competition and of intellectual property—Indecopi).
In fact, since the 1980s Indecopi has been suspicious about the authenticity of the collections in the Gold Museum. The first reports suggested that 85% of the metal pieces on display were fake. In August, the cultural commission of the government also looked into the scandal. Sanctions, which have not yet been imposed, could consist simply of a threat to prosecute, but there could also be direct legal action. The museum might, for example, be forced to publicise the fact that of “4,349 metal pieces analysed, 4,237 are false and more than 100 have aroused strong suspicions concerning their authenticity”.
The museum’s founder, and until 1993, owner of the largest number of gold objects in the country, Miguel Mufica Gallo, died a few days before the cultural commission took up the case. Described by the magazine Carelas as “a hunter of tigers and elephants, and the biggest collector of pre-Columbian gold and arms in Peru”, Miguel Mujica Gallo, who was born in 1910, was ambassador in Austria and Spain and for a short time was minister of foreign affairs in the first government of Fernando Belaunde.
From the outset a number of pieces which formed the heart of his collection were suspected of not being genuine by the Peruvian archaeological community. In 1986, during an exhibition in a Canadian museum, specialists had expressed their reserves about the Gold Museum. During the 1990s experts from the Instituto nacional de cultura (the organisation which is responsible for giving export licenses to archaeological objects) confirmed that a number of pieces were fake. In fact, in 1999, an analysis of the objects on their way to an exhibition in Bohlingen in Germany concluded that many of the pieces had been made by combining ancient gold from various provenances. Others were modern, made by artisans in the countryside north of Lima.
In 1996 an argument raging within the Mujica Gallo family revealed the scandal to the press: letters concerning the division of the family possessions were published in the leading Peruvian newspaper, El Comercio. Having decided to exclude his seven children from his will, Miguel Mujica Gallo left the administration of the Foundation to his daughter Victoria, who has been its director since January 2001. Victoria, in some embarrassment, has claimed that the assessors of the foundation took advantage of her father’s illness to introduce some fake pieces into the collection. As a result of the scandal the future of the Gold Museum in Lima is extremely uncertain.
Originally appeared in The ARt Newspaper as 'Fakes in Peru’s Gold Museum'