03.05.2019 change 03.05.2019
Szymon Zdziebłowski
Szymon Zdziebłowski

Polish archaeologists discovered a metallurgist`s tomb in Peru

A metal saw, an axe, knives and a chisel - in total, Polish archaeologists discovered a dozen or so bronze items in the grave of a young man in Huarmey, Peru, 300 km north of Lima. They believe that it is a grave of metallurgist who lived approx. 1,200 years ago.

Polish archaeologists have been working at Huarmey for many years. Their most spectacular discovery was made in 2012, when they found an intact pre-Inca tomb containing the remains of several dozen people, mainly women, probably the wives of one of the rulers of the Wari empire, which laid the foundation for the Inca state.

The leatest discovery of the metallurgist`s grave was made accidentally at the foot of the mountain, at the top of which the tomb of aristocrats was located. The leg of one of the students participating in the excavations sunk into the deep hole in the place where the grave was located. Scientists decided to check if the empty space was hiding a surprise. The hole was in the place archaeologists believed to be a ceremonial square where important religious rituals had been performed. So far, they have discovered llamas sacrificed to the gods.

"That was why when we came across a man`s burial this year, we initially thought that it was also a sacrifice, but it turned out that in this case it was different" - says head of excavations, Dr. Miłosz Giersz from the Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw.

Research done by Dr. Wiesław Więckowski, an anthropologist, shows that the man was about 20 years old at the time of his death. However, there is no indication that he was killed in a ritualistic manner. The man was placed in the grave in a sitting position. He was wrapped in fabric. Although it has not survived to our times, its pattern was imprinted in wet clay used to cover the deceased.

When the skeleton was first discovered, archaeologists did not notice any items that accompanied it. It turned out that all objects placed in the grave with the deceased were in the chest area - the man had his hands on them. They were mainly metal tools: a saw, an axe, knives and chisels with bone handles. Originally, the burial gifts were wrapped in a fabric that has partially survived.

Expert analysis of metal tools performed by Giersz and Branden Rizzuto from the University of Toronto, showed that the tools were made of copper and arsenic alloy. They are objects from a specific type of bronze (the most common type of bronze is an alloy of copper and tin). "Arsenic alloy guaranteed that these were really hard tools that could be used for a variety of farm and carving jobs, as well as war weapons" - says Giersz. Interestingly, the tools put into the grave with the man had been used.

In the case of the saw, for example, some of the teeth on the blade are broken off and others are bent and damaged. On the same tool there was a rectangular symbol resembling a checkerboard. "Very similar patterns are found on ceramic vessels from the period. The makers +signed+ their products this way. It could be similar in this case" - Giersz says.

The attention of scientists was drawn to the only object not made of bronze - a large knife made of obsidian, volcanic glass formed as a result of rapid cooling of lava (magma) millions of years ago. "Obsidian was considered a very valuable raw material in the Wari culture and other cultures of America, it was imported over very long distances, in this case from Quispisisa, obsidian query located over a thousand kilometres in a straight line south of Huarmey" - the scientist adds.

What convinced the archaeologists that it was a grave of a metallurgist? A part of the burial offering was slag that was probably formed during the melting of metals. According to the researchers, slag was not buried there accidentally - it was supposed to symbolize the work performed by the deceased. According to Maciej Kałaski, PhD student at the Faculty of Geology of the University of Warsaw, it will offer insight into the details of the metallurgy of Wari civilization.

The research was financed by the National Science Center of the Republic of Poland and Antamina mining company.

PAP - Science in Poland, Szymon Zdziebłowski

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