Museum authenticity issue forged in Peru's golden history





... There is no better illustration of the duality of Peru's capital city than its two most famous private museums -- the Gold Museum (Museo Oro del Peru) and the Larco Museum (Museo Larco).

Both are big tourist favorites. Both have gorgeous collections of Peruvian gold. But that's where they part company.

The sleek Larco Museum has an estimated 5,000 gold objects and 40,000 pieces of pre-Columbian pottery. Begun in 1926 by collector Rafael Larco Herrera, the museum is meticulously curated. It's also renowned for erotic pottery from pre-Inca days.

Across town, the Gold Museum was started in 1924 by collector Miguel Mujica Gallo, who amassed a huge array of stunning gold objects that he bought from tomb robbers in northern Peru. Located in the wealthy Monterrico district, the museum's treasure trove is displayed in a basement that smells just a tiny bit mildewy. No English labels are posted.

I visited both museums. And loved both. And later found out that in 2001 authorities discovered the Gold Museum was exhibiting up to 98% fakes.

Are visitors to the Gold Museum now seeing truth or fiction?

"I know that the museum has made an effort to identify any fraudulent material since the scandal. But I don't know details," says Mark Aldenderfer, professor of archaeology at the University of Arizona and an expert on Peruvian antiquities.

Peru's government tourism agency, Visit Peru, describes the Gold Museum in its literature this way: "Now notorious ... the museum was reopened with an assurance that all pieces now on display in its huge basement are bona fide, but the confusion is yet to be completely cleared up."

However, Gold Museum spokeswoman Claudia Rengito Gracey says that even before the scandal, efforts were made to root out fake pieces accidentally bought by founder Gallo in his later years. The museum employs archaeologists and conservators to authenticate the gold now on display. Even the museum's biggest detractors "fortunately have not been able to discredit the great quality of the pre-Columbian pieces" the museum owns, she says....

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