Metallurgy in Southern South America

  • Colin A. Cooke
  • Mark B. Abbott
  • Alexander P. Wolfe
Reference work entry

The Andes represent the largest source of mineral wealth in the Americas and the birthplace of New World metallurgy. Metallurgical exploitation of these resources occurred for millennia prior to colonial contact, as testified by numerous artifacts of gold, silver, and bronze. Prior to the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in 1532 AD, indigenous South Americans smelted silver ores, hammered gold sheets, and annealed copper alloy sheets, independently of technologies that, by then, were highly developed in the Old World. Despite this extensive history, we know astonishingly little about the development of metallurgical techniques through time.

Today we learn about ancient metallurgy primarily through three sources of information. The first is the collection and analysis of artifacts recovered from archaeological excavations. However, looting of archaeological sites is pervasive and as a result the archaeological record is incomplete (Jones and King 2002). This means that the...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Abbott, Mark B. and Alexander P. Wolfe. Intensive Pre‐Incan Metallurgy Recorded by Lake Sediments from the Bolivian Andes. Science 301 (2003): 1893–5.Google Scholar
  2. Bakewell, Peter. Miners of the Red Mountain: Indian Labor at Potosi, 1545–650. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1984.Google Scholar
  3. Bird, J. ‘The Copper Man’: A Prehistoric Miner and His Tools from Northern Chile. Pre‐Columbian Metallurgy of South America. Ed. E. P. Benson. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1979. 105–32.Google Scholar
  4. Burger, Richard L. and Robert B. Gordon. Early Central Andean Metalworking from Mina Perdida, Peru. Science 282.5391 (1998): 1108–11.Google Scholar
  5. Costin, Cathy, et al. The Impact of Inca Conquest on Local Technology in the Upper Mantaro Valley, Perú. What's New? A Closer Look at the Process of Innovation. Ed. S. E. van der Leeuw and R. Torrence. London: Unwin Hyman, 1989. 107–39.Google Scholar
  6. D'Altroy, T. N. and C. A. Hastorf. The Distribution and Contents of Inca State Storehouses in the Xauxa Region of Peru. American Antiquity 49.2 (1984): 334–49.Google Scholar
  7. Emmerich, Andre. Sweat of the Sun and Tears of the Moon: Gold and Silver in Pre‐Columbian Art. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1965.Google Scholar
  8. Fester, G. A. Copper and Copper Alloys in Ancient Argentina. Chymia 8 (1962): 21–31.Google Scholar
  9. González, A. R. Pre‐Columbian Metallurgy of North West Argentina: Historical Development and Cultural Process. Pre‐Columbian Metallurgy of South America. Ed. E. Benson. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1979. 133–202.Google Scholar
  10. Gordon, Robert B. and John W. Rutledge. Bismuth Bronze from Machu Picchu, Peru. Science 233.4636 (1984): 585–86.Google Scholar
  11. Graffam, G. J., M. Rivera, and A. Carevic. Copper Smelting in the Atacama: Ancient Metallurgy at the Ramaditas Site, Northern Chile. In Quest of Mineral Wealth: Aboriginal and Colonial Mining and Metallurgy in Spanish America. Ed. A. K. Craig, R. C. West. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Geosciences Publications, 1994. 75–92.Google Scholar
  12. ‐‐‐. Ancient Metallurgy in the Atacama: Evidence for Copper Smelting During Chile's Early Ceramic Period. Latin American Antiquity 7.2 (1996): 101–13.Google Scholar
  13. Jones, Julie and Heidi King. Gold of the Americas. New York: Metropolitian Museum of Art, 2002.Google Scholar
  14. Lechtman, Heather. A Metallurgical Site Survey in the Peruvian Andes. Journal of Field Archaeology 3.1 (1976): 1–42.Google Scholar
  15. ‐‐‐. Style in Technology—Some Early Thoughts. Material Culture: Styles, Organization, and Dynamics of Technology. Ed. Heather Lechtman and Robert S. Merrill. St. Paul: Proceedings of the American Ethnological Society, 1977. 3–20.Google Scholar
  16. ‐‐‐. Andean Value Systems and the Development of Prehistoric Metallurgy. Technology and Culture 25 (1984): 1–36.Google Scholar
  17. ‐‐‐. The Production of Cooper‐Arsenic Alloys in the Central Andes: Highland Ores and Coastal Smelters? Journal of Field Archaeology 18.1 (1991): 43–76.Google Scholar
  18. ‐‐‐. Arsenic Bronze: Dirty Copper or Chosen Alloy? Journal of Field Archaeology 23 (1996): 477–514.Google Scholar
  19. ‐‐‐. El Bronce Arsenical y el Horizonte Medio. Arqueología en Historia en Los Andes. Ed. R. Varón and J. Flores E. Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 1997. 153–86.Google Scholar
  20. ‐‐‐. Tiwanaku Period (Middle Horizon) Bronze Metallurgy in the Lake Titicaca Basin: A Preliminary Assessment. Tiwanaku and Its Hinterland: Archaeology and Paleoecology of an Andean Civilization. Ed. Alan L. Kolata. Vol. 2. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 2002.Google Scholar
  21. Lechtman, Heather and Sabine Klein. The Production of Copper‐Arsenic Alloys (Arsenic Bronze) by Cosemelting: Modern Experiment, Ancient Practice. Journal of Archaeological Science 26 (1999): 497–526.Google Scholar
  22. Lechtman, Heather, Antonieta Erlij, and Edward J. Barry Jr. New Perspectives on Moche Metallurgy: Techniques of Gilding Copper at Loma Negra, Northern Peru. American Antiquity 47 (1982): 3–30.Google Scholar
  23. McEwan, Gordon F. Pikillacta: The Wari Empire in Cuzco. Iowa City: Iowa Press, 2005.Google Scholar
  24. Olsen Bruhns, Karen. Ancient South America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.Google Scholar
  25. Owen, Bruce. The Role of Common Metal Objects in the Inka State. M.A. Thesis. University of California at Los Angeles, 1986.Google Scholar
  26. Petersen, Ulrich, et al. A Special Issue Devoted to the Mineral Deposits of Peru; Preface. Economic Geology 85.7 (1990): 1287–95.Google Scholar
  27. Peterson, Georg. Minería y Metalurgia en el Antiguo Perú. Arquelogicas.Vol. 12.Lima: Museo Nacional de Antropología y Arqueología, 1970.Google Scholar
  28. Ponce S., Carlos. Las Culturas Wankarani y Chiripa y su Relacion con Tiwanaku. La Paz: Editorial Los Amigos del Libro, 1970.Google Scholar
  29. Renberg, Ingemar, Maria Wik Persson, and Ove Emteryd. Pre‐Industrial Atmospheric Lead Contamination Detected in Swedish Lake Sediments. Nature 368 (1994): 323–6.Google Scholar
  30. Root, William C. The Metallurgy of the Southern Coast of Peru. American Antiquity 15 (1949): 10–37.Google Scholar
  31. Schorsch, Deborah. Silver‐and‐Gold Moche Artifacts from Loma Negra, Peru. Metropolitan Museum Journal 33 (1998): 109–36.Google Scholar
  32. Schorsch, Deborah, Ellen G. Howe, and Mark Wypyski, T. Silvered and Gilded Copper Metalwork from Loma Negra: Manufacture and Aesthetics. Boletin (Museo del Oro, Banco de la Republica, Bogota) 41 (1996): 145–63.Google Scholar
  33. Shimada, Izumi and Jo Ann Griffin. Precious Metal Objects of the Middle Sicán. Scientific American 15.1 (2005): 80–9.Google Scholar
  34. Shimada, Izumi Stephen M. Epstein, and Alan K. Craig. Batan Grande: A Prehistoric Metallurgical Center in Peru. Science 216 (1982): 952–59.Google Scholar
  35. ‐‐‐. The Metallurgical Process in Ancient Northern Peru. Archaeology 36.5 (1983): 38–45.Google Scholar
  36. Van Buren, Mary and Barbara H. Mills. Huayrachinas and Tocochimbos: Traditional Smelting Technology of the Sourthern Andes. Latin American Antiquity 16.1 (2005): 2–23.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg New York 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colin A. Cooke
  • Mark B. Abbott
  • Alexander P. Wolfe

There are no affiliations available