Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Metallurgy in Ancient Mesoamerica

It is not, as some claim, that metallurgy was not found in Mesoamerica at all, since there have been many finds there of gold, silver, copper, tin, mercury and lead—the latter being the least one worked. According to Echavarria, the alloys worked in Mesoamerica were gold and silver; gold and copper; copper and silver; and copper and lead. According to Torres and Franco, the techniques to work these metals in Mesoamerica were melting, hammering, lost-wax casting, a mixed technique of melting and hammering, coloration, and several types of gilding. In addition, Piedra, Pendergast, and Bray, all developed the workings of metallurgy that has been found and classified in Mesoamerica

However, according to these and many, many others who have worked in the ground in Mesoamerica, none of this evidence or any other evidence of metallurgy in Mesoamerica has been discovered to have existed before the so-called Late Classic period, the 7th to 9th century AD—300 years after the final demise of the Nephite Nation!

According to Galvan, around the 10th century AD, there appeared the first works connected with metallurgy in the modern states of Oaxaca, Guerrero and Michoacan. And according to Ichon, Becquelin and Gervais, the items found around this time were axes, lancets, needles, rattles, ear flares and bracelets, and around the time of the conquerors, copper rattles and iron projectile points became more frequent. According to Igleisas and Ciudad, in Zaculeu, 30 metal objects were found in funerary contexts, as well as in Tajumulco. At Mixco Viego, a copper axe was found as well as other artifacts of gold, according to Murdy. And according to Lee, artifacts of metallurgy were found in Chiapa de Corzo dating to this Late Classic period.

In all, metal work was concentrated in specific areas of Mesoamerica, where different techniques for the procurement and manufacture of metal artifacts were adopted and developed. For what it seems, Guatemala did not have metallurgy like that of western or central Mexico; however, it has samples that feature great artistic and technical skills. But the main point here is that none has ever been found dating earlier than approximately the 8th to the 10th century AD, showing that metallurgy first appeared in Mesoamerica and southern Mexico around 800 A.D. In this, thirteen of the most knowledgeable archaeologists working in the ground in Mesoamerica have agreed, with all their findings showing the same dating results—there was no metallurgy in Mesoamerica during the Jaredite or Nephite periods.

Even today, Guatemala is one of the least producing countries of the world in gold, silver and copper (see the previous post), having some of the fewest deposits in the ground of any country. So when Nephi said they found ore in abundance of gold, of silver, and of copper, he could not possibly have been referring to Mesoamerica.

Most archaeologists believe that the metallurgy found in Mexico and Guartemala came there from South America and Central America via maritime trade routes, with technologies exploiting a wide range of material, including alloys of copper-silver, copper-arsenic, copper-tin, and copper-arsenic-tin, with objects used for individual ornamentation and ceremonial objects making up the bulk of distinctly Mesoamerican artifacts.

Owing largely to its proximity to southern centers of metallurgy, specifically southern Central America and South America, the southern Maya area was an early locus of metal working in Mesoamerica. In the beginning, West Mexican smiths worked primarily in copper during the initial period, with some low-arsenic alloys, as well as occasional employment of silver and gold. The prototypes for the small, often utilitarian items appear rooted in southern Ecuador and northern Peru, according to Dorothy Hosler, “Ancient West Mexican Metallurgy: South and Central American origins and West Mexican Transformations,” found in “American Anthropologist.”

Thus, it clearly appears that metallurgy began in the Ecuador and Peruvian area of South America, both of which have metallurgical history dating into B.C. times, and eventually moved north into Central America and then Mesoamerica, where evidence of metallurgy has been found by at least 800 A.D.

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