Ancient Americans Show Metallic Flair

By Bower, Bruce | Science News, November 7, 1998 | Go to article overview

Ancient Americans Show Metallic Flair


Bower, Bruce, Science News


Scientists working at an ancient ceremonial center in Peru can be forgiven if they break into a chant of "Hallelujah, foiled again." Copper and gold foil unearthed there dates to about 3,000 years ago, offering the oldest known evidence of metalworking in the New World.

Metallurgy in this region arose in what is believed to have been a relatively small society without strict social classes, assert archaeologist Richard L. Burger and geologist Robert B. Gordon, both of Yale University. Traditional theories hold that large states characterized by stark social divisions held a monopoly on technological innovations such as metallurgy.

Burger and Gordon present their findings in the Nov. 6 Science.

"This is an extremely important paper," comments archaeologist Daniel Sandweiss of the University of Maine in Orono. "It finally gives us a clear indication that metallurgy was invented independently [in the New World] and developed in ways that were similar to its beginnings elsewhere."

The Yale researchers directed excavations at Mina Perdida, located on a large, natural terrace above a coastal valley. A flat-topped, terraced pyramid dominates the site. Digging focused on two long, raised mounds arranged in a U shape and framing a ceremonial plaza. …

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