Peruvian gold museum may hold fakes

Peru’s famed gold museum, a top tourist attraction, lost its luster on Wednesday when the country’s consumer protection agency said it was investigating claims that up to 85% of its artifacts may be fake, Reuters reported.

Ricardo Maguina, technical secretary of Peru’s Consumer Protection Commission (INDECOPI), said the vast private collection was now being examined by a commission of experts from Lima’s Catholic University to ascertain its authenticity, Reuters reported.

Asked how many of the glittering ceremonial daggers, pieces of jewelry and ritual ornaments may be replicas, Maguina told Reuters: “It could be that 15% are original and 85% copies. But we are checking. These figures have to be treated with great caution.”

Some of the Museo de Oro’s trove of around 20,000 artifacts-which give visitors a glimpse into the treasures alighted upon by Spanish conquistadors when they arrived in Peru in the 16th century-have been displayed in exhibitions round the world.

Maguina said INDECOPI was tipped off by a visitor-a Mr. Tapia-who wrote questioning the authenticity of some of the pieces he had seen. INDECOPI conducted a preliminary three-month inquiry and has now ordered a full-scale probe, Reuters reported.

The museum, which closed its doors on Wednesday, could face a fine. Sixty percent of foreign visitors to Lima flock to see its extensive array not only of gold but also of silver, bronze, ceramics, pre-Inca mummies, weapons, ponchos, and textiles, which the museum says were found in burial sites and other excavations.

No one was immediately available at the museum to comment on the investigation, but Victoria Mujica de Perez-Palacio, whose father Miguel amassed the treasures, told El Comercio newspaper she thought her father had been swindled.

“I think the people who have been around my father in the last 13 years took advantage of his good faith and his blindness to buy replicas. I’m sure he doesn’t know,” the paper quoted her as saying. “I’ve been back to the museum at his request, after keeping my distance for 13 years and I found a large increase in modern pieces or replicas.”

Mujica de Perez-Palacio told Reuters that the museum had itself detected some 2,300 imitations-around 10% of the total-over the last six months.

“The Gold Museum must meet the necessary conditions to be classed as a museum,” INDECOPI said in a statement. “If they are not original, all the exhibits must be cataloged according to … three classes — modern manufactured pieces …; modern creations using archeological artifacts; and pieces of the archeological heritage.”

Peru remains Latin America’s biggest gold producer and is the eighth largest in the world.