University of Cambridge > > McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research > Distinguished Visitor Lecture "The Golden Road: Materials, Value and Exchange in the Ancient Americas"

Distinguished Visitor Lecture "The Golden Road: Materials, Value and Exchange in the Ancient Americas"

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Emma Jarman.

Drawing upon significant recent archaeological findings and new investigations into the roles of artists, their patrons, and their workshops, this talk focuses on luxury arts in the lands between the two great imperial capitals of the ancient Americas: Cusco, the seat of the Inca state, and Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital.

The presentation follows a specific historical and geographical path, tracing the development of gold-working in the Americas from around 1000 BC in the Andes of South America, to its expansion northward into Central America, and finally to Mexico, where gold-working only comes into its full flower after 1000 AD. Although the spread northward of gold working provides the exhibition with its trajectory and narrative, this golden road passed through regions where gold was of little interest to the indigenous populations. Such variations bring to the fore the most challenging and broad-ranging research question driving this lecture: How can we discern and interpret indigenous ideas of value?

This lecture seeks to understand which materials were considered most precious to the Moche, the Incas, the Maya, the Aztecs, and other ancient American cultures, and how and why certain materials were selected and transformed into some of the ancient world’s most spectacular works of art.

This talk is part of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research series.

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