A British Museum show on ancient Andean civilisations is revealing new insights into their views of time, society and war

The British Museum’s landmark show Peru: A Journey in Time has been a decade in the making and enables the museum to foreground objects from its own collections and present them alongside treasures from Peru seen for the first time in the UK. Its opening coincides with the 200th anniversary of Peru declaring its independence from Spain, with the UK being one of the first countries to recognise the new nation’s sovereignty. But the neatness of this chronology is perhaps, to a western audience, almost the only familiar aspect of a show that consistently challenges the most basic notions of how the world works and how it can, and should, be lived in. Not the least of these challenges is to the concept of time itself.

The subtitle of the exhibition is both a prosaic description of a chronological examination of many different cultures over 3,500 years, but also an introduction to how Andean time was experienced. “We generally think that we’re in the present, the past is behind us and the future is ahead of us,” explains its co-curator Jago Cooper. “Whereas in Andean societies, the past, present and future are parallel lines happening contemporaneously. So the past isn’t dead, it’s happening at the same time as the present, which can therefore change it. And it is by accepting the interrelationship between the past and present that you can best plan for the future.”

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