Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Queen Victoria's Mysterious 'Inca' Crown

What a fabulous story! From Minerva Online

A gold crown presented to Queen Victoria in 1862 has always been thought of as a symbol of power from the Inca civilisation, but new research reveals that its origins may be even more intriguing.
Deborah Clarke of the Royal Collection, who began researching the crown's history in preparation for the exhibition Treasures from The Queen's Palaces, asked two experts at the British Museum to look at this extraordinary object. During testing and examination, it was established that the crown, excavated in Chordeleg in southern Ecuador in 1854 and later presented to Queen Victoria by the president of Ecuador, may not have been made by the Incas.

The crown was examined by Dr Colin McEwan, Curator for Latin American Collections, and Susan La Niece, Senior Metallurgist in the British Museum's Department of Conservation and Scientific Research. They came to the conclusion that the style of the crown and techniques used to make it indicate that it was probably fashioned by skilled metalsmiths belonging to the Cañari ethnic group in the Cuenca region of southern Ecuador, where it was found.

The Cañari ruled a powerful confederation that was not conquered by invading Inca armies until the mid-15th century – one of the last areas to be added to their empire.

Dr McEwan has determined that this crown is part of an impressive hoard that includes objects now held in the National Museum of the American Indian, in Washington DC .

He explained that the crown 'was clearly used by a person of high status as an emblem of lordly or royal authority, forming part of a suite of golden regalia, along with bracelets and anklets.

'Stylistic details suggest that the crown belongs to a pre-Inca Northern Andean gold-working tradition, which encompassed the coast and northern highlands of Peru and the southern highlands of Ecuador … the crown could have been worn by a Cañari lord well before the Inca invasion in the 15th century.

'The crown's spectacular gold plume, though, suggests a second theory: it may have been made by local Cañari craftsmen employed by their royal Inca conquerors. This plume was designed to shimmer and move, to catch and reflect the sunlight, like the feathered plumes that Inca royalty wore in their crowns; it would have been a symbol of solar power and the Incas' divine right to rule.

'It's a little bit of a detective story, and we have only one part of the jigsaw puzzle,' explains Dr McEwan. 'The plume raises the question of whether it was commissioned by the Incas and provides valuable clues to the relationship between the Inca and the Cañaris. The application of innovative analytical techniques such as XRF [a non-destructive X-ray technique used to analyse metals] here at the British Museum allows us better to understand the technology deployed to make the crown, and also now to compare it stylistically with other far-flung objects in other museum collections.

' We are planning a scientific paper that will finally reconnect the crown to the related body of objects from the same tradition for the first time.' Lindsay Fulcher

The crown is on show in Royal Collection Treasures from The Queen's Palaces at The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh (0131 556 5100; www.royalcollection.org.uk)
until 4 November 2012.

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