Northern Chile has a long tradition of mining and metallurgy, and the products of such activities have played an important part in the cultural dynamics of the area. Nevertheless, few archaeological investigations of this industry have been carried out in the current Chilean territory and in the Central Andes in general. This work is part of ongoing research aiming to investigate indigenous metallurgical activities in the Atacama region of northern Chile, using scientific analysis, as a first step towards a large-scale map of prehistoric copper production and exchange across the South Central Andes. The research has involved documentation and sampling of already-excavated artefacts from the Archaeological Museum in San Pedro de Atacama. Saw-cut samples and drill shavings were obtained from 175 objects, considering not only their category and provenience, but also their state of preservation. The examined samples correspond to implements such as axes, maces, chisels, and tweezers, as well as adornments which include pins and metal discs. All the collected samples have been analysed by XRF. The saw-cut samples have in addition been examined by metallography and scanning electron microscopy using SEM-EDS, and characterised chemically by electron microprobe. Twenty samples, including both shavings and fragments, have been further selected for lead isotope analysis and are still being processed. The results obtained so far have been extremely valuable. XRF analysis has enabled us to characterise the different elements present in the metal objects. These results might provide information on the nature of the raw materials used. Metallographic and mineralogical results demonstrate the occurrence of both oxides and sulphides in the samples. Finally, lead isotope analyses are being used to characterise potential ore sources in northern Chile.

Co-Authr: Alexander Leibbrandt (Codelco)

Keywords: Andean mining and metallurgy, Archaeometallurgy, South Central Andes

Author: Maldonado, Blanca (El Colegio de Michoacan, A.C., Mexico / Mexiko)
Co-Author: Rehren, Thilo (University College London, Doha, Qatar / Katar); Pernicka, Ernst (Curt-Engelhorn-Zentrum Archäometrie gGmbH, Mannheim, Germany / Deutschland); Núñez, Lautaro (Universidad Católica del Norte, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile / Chile)


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