April 1, 2008

Scientists Find America’s Oldest Gold Artifact

Anthropologists at University of Arizona said this week they had discovered the oldest gold artifact ever found in the Americas.   

The gold necklace is believed to be over 4,000 years old, with radiocarbon dating of surrounding material indicating it was made around 2100 BC, the researchers reported Monday.

Mark Aldenderfer, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona, and his colleagues discovered the necklace in a burial pit near an adult skull in a village called Jiskairumoko.  The village was settled by hunter-gatherers from 3300 to 1500 BC.

"We sat on the discovery for a while for a number of reasons. One is that we wanted to have a chemical analysis of the gold done," Aldenderfer said during a Reuters telephone interview.

"And the second was we didn't want people who were local or anyone else to learn of the gold because we were afraid of looters."

But Aldenderfer no longer has those concerns.

"We finished our excavations in 2004. And the site was then plowed over by the local inhabitants who simply took it back to agriculture again. So, we're not worried about looting. It was destroyed anyway," he said.

The finding was a surprise, said Aldenderfer, as the people who lived at Jiskairumoko were in the early stages of agriculture.

"Most people have argued that gold and gold working like this should only be found in the societies of people who are settled village agriculturalists reliant on surplus production and, in fact, even in more complex societies," he said.

The necklace was made from beads of local gold hammered flat, then rolled and strung on a wool string.  Aldenderfer said it indicated somebody had become more powerful and influential.

"This reflects the social process of people becoming sedentary. When you become sedentary, all the rules of society begin to transform from a mobile lifestyle," he added.


Photo Caption: Jiskairumoko necklace (Photo courtesy of Mark Aldenderfer)


On the Net:

ABSTRACT: "Four-thousand-year-old gold artifacts from the Lake Titicaca basin, southern Peru"

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

University of Arizona