Muisca raft (offering) Gold A.D. 600 - A.D. 1600 Pasca, Cundinamarca 10,2 x 19,5 x 10,1 cm
Votive Figure Gold A.D. 600 - A.D. 1600 Pasca, Cundinamarca 8,3 x 22,6 cm
Ofrendatario donde se halló la Balsa Muisca. 600 d.C. - 1600 d.C. Pasca, Cundinamarca.

Eldorado Raft

Technically speaking, the object known as the Muisca Raft is a votive figure (ex-voto, offering) in the shape of a raft with people on it. It is an exceptional piece since traditionally it has been interpreted as the representation of the investiture ceremony of the chieftain in the village of Guatavita: Eldorado Ceremony.

Based on the accounts made by Spanish chroniclers, we know that before contact was made with Europe, upon the death of the Muisca chieftain, the nephew in line as head was recognised by his people in a ceremony that took place on a lake and included sailing on a raft made of wood, and the offering of gold and emerald pieces thrown into the lake. It was possible to confirm that this ceremony did take place upon the discovery of this piece in the shape of a ceremonial raft, yet it was not found in Guatavita Lake.

A large size and extremely important person is placed in the centre of the raft: he has been interpreted as the chieftain. He wears very rich ornaments and is surrounded by twelve smaller characters. Some carry banners and canes; the ones in the front are wearing masks of jaguars and wizard maracas on their wrists and the very small ones, placed around the edges of the raft, may be recognised as rowers.

This piece is 19,5 centimetres long, 10,1 wide and 10,2 high was found, together with another important votive figure, at the beginning of 1969 by three peasants in a ceramic container inside a small cave in the high barren plateau in the municipality of Pasca, towards the South of Bogotá. Why the best piece of this culture discovered until was now was presented as an offer there? Maybe because it is one of the borders of the Muisca culture in the direction of one of the cardinal or cosmogonic points.

We have to say that the Muisca Raft was known by studious people in the world one century before it was discovered. In fact, this mythical object was preceded by another similar one, weighing 162 grams. The raft was found in the Siecha lake in 1856 and was unveiled in 1883 by Liborio Zerda in his book El Dorado. Zerda published a print of the Siecha offering and interpreted it as a representation of the ceremony described for Guatavita. His book, which continued the interest on the Muiscas conveyed by the Baron of Humboldt, made an impact on the scholars of Colombia and Europe at the time. One of the big museums in the world fought for a long time to include it as the most memorable object of the American continent; but when the Siecha raft travelled, legally at the time, to Germany, it was lost for the world in a big fire when the ship carrying it caught fire in the port of Bremen.

In Pasca when the rumour spread on the discovery of an object made of gold, the parson immediately understood its importance as a heritage for all and he began, even from his pulpit, the defence against illegal exportation. The Gold Museum acquired the Muisca Raft in April that same year, and since then it has been exhibited in the premises in Bogotá. It has never left the country, not even with the approximately 200 temporary exhibits the Museum has prepared to show our heritage to the astounded eyes of the world.

The ceramic container holding this discovery is definitely less famous. It has the shape of a shaman sitting in a thinking position, resting his chin on his hand, and is quite unlike the most repeated standard in the Muisca ceramic art.

The raft was cast in one sole piece using the lost wax technique in a clay mould. It is made of extremely pure gold (over 80%) with native silver and copper alloy. It is impossible to determine the exact date it was manufactured, but very possibly it belongs to the late period of the Muisca culture between 1.200 and 1.500 AD. Pasca, together with Guatavita, was populated with craftsmen, and therefore it is even likely that this extraordinary piece was manufactured there. 

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A description of the ceremony (in Spanish)

Open 18 images of incredible detail of the Muisca Raft, by Laboratorio Imagine, Universidad de los Andes
(Press F11, fullscreen)

Zoom in on the Muisca raft at the Google Art Project

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