Re: Pre-Columbian metal (Was: Olmecs and Africa ? No evidence.)
Thu, 04 Jul 1996 08:06:22 -0700

August Matthusen wrote:

> Rapp et al. (1990) list 540 locations in North America (not including
> Mesoamerica) where native (i.e., elemental) copper sources were
> exploited. Vernon (1990) describes in more detail the Old Copper
> industry, a Late Archaic Indian manifestation that flourished in
> Wisconsin and Northern Michigan c. 5500 to 3000 BP. Copper tools were
> fabricated by hammering the native copper and occasionally annealing to
> increase hardness. Tools found have included axes, awls, knives, and
> points. None of the artifacts reported indicates smelting was
> involved.

According to The 1995 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (I know, not a very reliable
resource, but the best I have at the moment); gold, copper, and silver were being
alloyed, smelted, cast, soldered, and gilded as early as 500 AD; originating in
Ecuador, but spreading throughout 'Nuclear America'. Bronze made it's first
appearance in Bolivia about 1100 AD. There can be no doubt though that
cold-wrought copper was far more common.

According to what I've read on Aztecs at this point, ores, including bronze were
used. The bronze, I think, was a copper-lead alloy; much to soft to be useful for
many tools. Flint remained the best overall material for the construction of
bladed tools. A well crafted flint blade (near 7 on Moh's Scale) is stronger than
stainless steel (5 on Moh's scale), although it doesn't hold it's edge as long. It
certainly holds it's edge longer than bronze and was inexpensive to produce. At
this point, I'll just incorporate M.B.'s point on cost of production vs benefits
gained. It is a fundamental concept of economics which she presents far better
than I could.