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      The Production of Silver in South America

      Archaeology International

      Ubiquity Press, Ltd.

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          Intensive pre-Incan metallurgy recorded by lake sediments from the Bolivian Andes.

          The history of pre-Columbian metallurgy in South America is incomplete because looting of metal artifacts has been pervasive. Here, we reconstruct a millennium of metallurgical activity in southern Bolivia using the stratigraphy of metals associated with smelting (Pb, Sb, Bi, Ag, Sn) from lake sediments deposited near the major silver deposit of Cerro Rico de Potosí. Pronounced metal enrichment events coincide with the terminal stages of Tiwanaku culture (1000 to 1200 A.D.) and Inca through early Colonial times (1400 to 1650 A.D.). The earliest of these events suggests that Cerro Rico ores were actively smelted at a large scale in the Late Intermediate Period, providing evidence for a major pre-Incan silver industry.
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            Huayrachinas and Tocochimbos: Traditional Smelting Technology of the Southern Andes

            Metal production has been a key economic activity in the southern Andes for the last 2,000 years, but relatively little is known about the indigenous technology used to process and smelt ores, in part because these activities are often difficult for investigators to identify in the archaeological record. In 2001 and 2002, members of the Proyecto Arqueológico Porco-Potosí had the opportunity to observe the use of indigenous smelting technology to produce silver in southern Bolivia. The data generated by these ethnographic observations, as well as by historical texts that describe traditional smelting, are used to interpret a sixteenth-century metal production site excavated by the authors in Bolivia and two production locales reported from Argentina and Chile. This assessment suggests that a great deal of variability existed in the metallurgical traditions of the southern Andes, and that the full spectrum will only be understood if archaeologists can recognize the material correlates of different types of technological processes.
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              Direct evidence of 1,900 years of indigenous silver production in the Lake Titicaca Basin of Southern Peru

              Archaeological excavations at a U-shaped pyramid in the northern Lake Titicaca Basin of Peru have documented a continuous 5-m-deep stratigraphic sequence of metalworking remains. The sequence begins in the first millennium AD and ends in the Spanish Colonial period ca. AD 1600. The earliest dates associated with silver production are 1960 + or - 40 BP (2-sigma cal. 40 BC to AD 120) and 1870 + or - 40 BP (2-sigma cal. AD 60 to 240) representing the oldest known silver smelting in South America. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS) analysis of production debris indicate a complex, multistage, high temperature technology for producing silver throughout the archaeological sequence. These data hold significant theoretical implications including the following: (i) silver production occurred before the development of the first southern Andean state of Tiwanaku, (ii) the location and process of silverworking remained consistent for 1,500 years even though political control of the area cycled between expansionist states and smaller chiefly polities, and (iii) that U-shaped structures were the location of ceremonial, residential, and industrial activities.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Archaeology International
                AI
                Ubiquity Press, Ltd.
                2048-4194
                1463-1725
                November 20 2011
                November 20 2011
                : 13
                : 0
                Article
                10.5334/ai.1318
                © 2011
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                Archaeology, Cultural studies

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                Volume 13, Issue 0

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