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OnCampus Weekly.. JAN. 14/05

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By Greg Harris

Its priceless gold artifacts have earned it the nickname “Tut’s tomb of the Americas.” Now, organizers at the University of Calgary’s Nickle Arts Museum have just under a year to prepare for the Canadian debut of The Gold Exhibition – Royal Tombs of Ancient Peru.

Set to open January 6, 2006, the exhibit cleared its last regulatory hurdle in late 2004 when the Peruvian government overturned a five-year-old law that prevented cultural artifacts from leaving the country.

“ It is very important that Peru showcase cultural treasures like these around the world in order to help improve the country’s tourism industry,” says Dr. Carlos Elera, the director of Peru’s Sicán National Museum, where the Royal Tombs collection permanently resides. “Although the law was initially designed to protect the country’s heritage resources, we know now that it went too far. We’re very pleased to be able to share with Calgarians about 250 objects from the Sicán tombs.”

Included in the exhibit are crowns, masks, ear spools, head-dresses, feather ornaments and much more – all expertly crafted in gold by the Sicán people, who date from about 900-1300 CE, before the rise of the Incas.

large maskElera, who is from Peru, obtained his PhD in archaeology at the University of Calgary in 1999 but has been intimately connected with Sicán excavations in northern Peru beginning in 1979, when he was an undergraduate student at a Catholic university in Lima. Shortly after he graduated from the U of C, he was hired by the Peruvian government to oversee the establishment of Peru’s Sicán National Museum.

“ We are delighted to hold the exclusive Canadian rights to this exhibition and can’t wait to show some of these objects to Calgarians,” says Dr. Ann Davis, director of The Nickle Arts Museum. “There has been a preoccupation with Egyptian antiquity but people forget there were incredibly sophisticated civilizations elsewhere in the world.”

Elera notes the Sicán people actually produced about 85 per cent of Peru’s metal artifacts, contrary to the belief that it was the Incas who produced most of it. He says the Sicán exhibition is unique, since it is the only major burial site in Peru to be excavated completely by archaeologists. Most of the Incan and pre-Incan artifacts in museums around the world have suspicious origins and, although most are authentic, they have likely been looted from burial sites, he says.

Elera, who in 1991 worked with Dr. Izumi Shimada, the world’s foremost expert on Sicán culture, moved to Calgary in 1992 because of the university’s reputation for excellence in the field of archaeology and Latin American studies. He divides his time between Peru and Calgary, where his wife and two children live.

View more photos from the exhibition