A necklace of gold and turquoise-colored beads at an ancient hunter-gatherer burial site in the Andes Mountains is the oldest crafted gold artifact known in the Americas and challenges the idea that only complex societies could produce such displays of wealth and prestige.
The nine-bead necklace was found at the base of an adult skull in a grave at Jiskairumoko, a primitive hamlet once occupied by a group of hunter-gatherers near Peru’s Lake Titicaca. The burial site dates to between 2155 to 1936 B.C., before more advanced societies, such as the Chavin, Moche and Inca, flourished in the region.
Gold and other finery were symbols of wealth and status in these societies (as they still are in ours). “Gold certainly is one of those things in human history that has attracted the eye,” said Mark Aldenderfer of the University of Arizona, the leader of the team that found the necklace. “People see it as something unique and different.”
But such rich adornments hadn’t been documented by archaeologists in more primitive societies. The discovery of the necklace, detailed in the March 31 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that these primitive people were in the middle of the transition to a more structured, agrarian society and that their metal-working abilities may have been underestimated.
“This is, for us, signaling this interesting social process that’s really part of a dramatic transformation towards some kind of [social] inequality,” Aldenderfer said.
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