50 years ago, an artist convincingly exhibited a fake Iron Age civilization – with invented maps, music and artifacts

Invented civilizations are usually thought of as the stuff of sci-fi novels and video games, not museums.

Yet in 1972, the Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art at Cornell University exhibited “The Civilization of Llhuros,” an imaginary Iron Age civilization. Created by Cornell Professor of Art Norman Daly, who died in 2008, the show resembled a real archaeological exhibition with more than 150 objects on display.

Unaware of Llhuros, I started fabricating and documenting my own imaginary ancient culture using ceramics and printmaking for my undergraduate thesis in 1980. The following year, as a graduate student, I learned about Llhuros and began a decadeslong correspondence with Daly.

With scams, deceptions and lies flourishing in our digital age, an art exhibition that convincingly presents fiction as fact has particular currency.

A culture made from scratch

Daly’s project was truly groundbreaking. The exhibition included a map of the excavation sites, old tools and religious artifacts that Daly had crafted, all from the culture’s distinct periods – “Early Archaic,” “Archaic,” “Late Archaic,” “Middle Period” and “Decline.”