Re: Pre-Columbian metal (Was: Olmecs and Africa ? No evidence.)

Eric Brunner (
2 Jul 1996 19:06:40 GMT wrote:

Thanks Leigh. I'm lifting this out of s.a.meso and into sci.anthro, where,
as usual, there is a significant lack of understanding of what metalworking
is in the historical record. James addresses the associated find-the-forge
issue, which is useful for addressing the archaeological record in addition
to the historical record. I've tried to fool the line-counter but just in
case, the first (indented) text is Leigh's, the second is Jim's.

Hello out there in archaeology land. Anybody got a handle on reality?????

I don't know who suggested that there was no metal working in pre-Columbian
America, but they're dead wrong. Metal artifacts have been discovered at
numerous Mayan sites.

Bob Sharer in his book on the Maya (see below) devotes several passages to
this subject. The one of most interest appears on page 463, 3rd para:

quote: A famous encounter with a Maya trading canoe off the north coast of
Honduras near Islas de la Bahia (Bay Islands), recorded by Columbus on his
fourth voyage, is our best eyewitness account. The canoe, described as being
as long as a Spanish balley and 2.5 meters wide, had a cabin amidships and a
crew of some two dozen men, plus its captain and a number of women and
children. It carried a cargo of cacao, metal products (copper bells and axes),
pottery (including crucibles to melt metal), cotton clothing, and macanas
(Mexican-style wooden swords set with obsidian blades). end quote.

Parenthesized phrases are part of the quote from Sharer, I did not add them.

Sharer devotes a full page (719) to a discussion of metalworking. Exerpts
from this discussion: quote Metal objects from Classic-period Maya centers
are rare... Copper bells and ornaments dating from the Terminal Classic or
Early Postclassic have been found at Quirigua... Metal objects from the
Postclassic are more common. The greatest number recovered have been
dredged from the sacred Cenote of Sacrifice at Chichen Itza, though copper
bells have been found elsewhere. Gold and copper objects from the Cenote
include disks decorated with repousse work, a cup and saucer, necklaces,
bracelets, masks, pendants, rings, earplugs, bells and beads.... Most of the
metal objects probably reached Chichen Itza as articles of trade. Chemical
analyses indicate that the metal alloys probably came from as far south as
Columbia, Panama, Honduras, and Guatemala, and from as far west and
north as Chiapas, Oaxaca, and the Valley of Mexico... Not all metal objects
that show casting are of foreign origin. A miscast copper bell found near
Quirigua indicates probable local production. But the technique with which
Maya goldsmiths were most skilled was the hammering for repousse work...
The gold used in the objects made at Chichen Itza was probably obtained
by reworking cast-gold objects of foreign origin. end quote.

Also, on page 456, referring to the large market at Tlatelolco as described
in Spanish histories:

quote: At Tlatelolco, one could find goods from all over Mesoamerica,
including a variety of food and drink, jewelry made from precious metals
(gold or silver) and stones (jadeite or turquoise),... end quote.

Since the Classic period referenced in the second quote is roughly 500 AD,
and Columbus's encounter was obviously around 1,500 AD, this reports show
a continuous use of metal for at least 1,000 years. Hardly non-existent.

There are many other reports of metal usage. The Inca Indians ransomed
their last ruler from the Spanish by filling a room with gold. The Spanish stole
the gold panels from the Inca buildings and shipped them back to Spain.

Now, what was this noise about no metal in the Americas? I think someone's
been smoking something that ain't legal.

Quotes from Sharer, Robert J. The Ancient Maya, Fifth Edition. Stanford,
University Press, Stanford, CA: 1994. ISBN 0-8047-2310-9

Leigh Bassett - author of MayaDate, the Ultimate Mayan Calendric Calculator
version 2.10 now in Beta release

> D. Doles ) writes:
> In <4qkauo$> (Carlos
> May) writes:
> >
> >Bob Keeter ( wrote:
> >
> >: Been reading the thread with considerable interest. I do have one
> >: quick question. You refer to "metal tool working" as being a very
> >: important skill that if cultures intechanged would be passed along.
> >
> >Yes. Someone in email asked if my bringing this up was just a
> >retorical question. No; I think this needs serious discussion.
> >Use of metal tools was extremely important in Old World cultures.
> >Nations rose and fell with advances in metalurgy.
> >
> With regard to pre-Columbian metal usage in mesoamerica, it is obvious
> that whether the knowledge of metal mining, smelting, forging, etc.
> were to have arisen through native discovery, or imported through
> African visitors or others, there would still be evidence of it's
> usage. If no metal artifacts were ever found, the mines where the ore
> was extracted from the ground would remain. There are ancient
> "pre-historic" mines scattered all over Europe, the middle-east, and
> Asia.
> Since the Spanish were able to locate ore deposits and establish mines
> in a short period after their conquest and enslavement of the native
> population the question of a source of metal is answered. Metal ore was
> there! Maybe not iron, but copper, tin, etc. from which brass and
> bronze could be made.
> If the native population had had a metalworking technology and
> subsequently lost the knowledge of how to do it, their abandoned mines
> would remain. In other parts of the world, not only have the abandoned
> mines been located, explored, and researched, but their ancient
> smelting sites have also been found.
> Admittedly, the climate in other parts of the world may be more
> conducive to the preservation of ancient artifacts that in mesoamerica,
> but there would still be evidence of any widespread metal usage.
> Jim Doles

Eric Brunner