The Sounds and Colors of Power: The Sacred Metallurgical Technology of Ancient West Mexico

Overview

This is a groundbreaking analysis of the relationship between culture and technology. Dorothy Hosler, an archaeologist, metallurgist, and anthropologist, shows how the methods of materials science, augmented by archaeological and other sources of data, can be used to illuminate historical puzzles such as the origins of the unique metallurgy developed in West Mexico between the seventh and sixteenth centuries.

Hosler traces the roots of this technology to Central and South ...

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Overview

This is a groundbreaking analysis of the relationship between culture and technology. Dorothy Hosler, an archaeologist, metallurgist, and anthropologist, shows how the methods of materials science, augmented by archaeological and other sources of data, can be used to illuminate historical puzzles such as the origins of the unique metallurgy developed in West Mexico between the seventh and sixteenth centuries.

Hosler traces the roots of this technology to Central and South America and establishes that it was introduced to West Mexico in two separate waves, both traveling along a maritime trade route originating in Ecuador and extending as far south as central and southern Peru. She then shows how West Mexican smiths transformed the elements of the technology (including alloy systems, fabrication methods, and artifact designs) to reflect their own perceptions of what were for them late-appearing materials, in that they were introduced some time after the foundations of civilization had appeared in their land.

The central question Hosler addresses is why West Mexicans chose not to exploit the utilitarian properties of metals but focused instead on what seem to us to be incidental properties of sound and color. Drawing on historical, ethnographic, and linguistic data, she argues that metallic sounding instruments, especially bells, were used in rituals that offered protection in war, that celebrated creation, fertility, and regeneration, and that figured in concepts of the sacred—rituals, in short, that created a universe through song, through the sound of bells, and through reflective golden and silvery colors. The focus on sound and color thus constituted an expression of divine power. Hosler argues further that the elites and rulers who wore and used these metal objects themselves embodied these supernatural qualities. A rich array of technical date, maps, and photomicrographs support Hosler's analysis.

"This major study suggests that prehispanic metallurgy was adopted in western Mexico ca. AD 600 from northern South America. Presents technical analyses and a comprehensive theory for development of Mesoamerican metallurgy. Argues that metals were a ritual and elite material that expressed sacredness and social relations"--Handbook of Latin American Studies, v. 57.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Hosler (archaeology and ancient technology, MIT) demonstrates how the methods of materials science, augmented by archaeological and other sources of data, can be used to illuminate the origins of West Mexican metallurgy between the seventh and sixteenth centuries. She traces the roots of this technology to two separate waves of influence from Central and South America, and describes how West Mexican smiths transformed the elements of the technology (including alloy systems, fabrication methods, and artifact designs) to reflect their own perceptions of what were, for them, entirely new materials. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262082303
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 2/24/1995
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 8.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
1 The Perspective and the Region 2
An Overview of Mesoamerican Prehistory 6
The West Mexican Metalworking Zone 13
South American Contacts in West Mexico 15
The Research Agenda 17
2 Resources, Metals, and Alloys 20
Distribution of Native Metals and Ore Minerals in the Metalworking Zone 21
Ore Types Used in West Mexican Metallurgy 31
Documentary Evidence for Ancient Mining 38
3 Period 1 of West Mexican Metalworking: A.D. 600 to A.D. 1200/1300 44
The Technological Chronology 45
Archaeological Evidence for Period 1 Metallurgy 46
The Metallurgical Technology of Period 1 51
Lost-Wax Casting: Bells 52
Cold Working: Sumptuary and Ritual Objects 59
Cold Working: Utilitarian Objects 75
Summary and Observations 83
4 Origins of Period 1 West Mexican Metallurgy 86
Ecuador and West Mexico 89
Colombia and Lower Central America 98
The Introduction of the Technology to West Mexico 99
The Evidence from Ecuador 105
The Reinterpretation 122
5 The Florescence of West Mexican Metallurgy: A.D. 1200/1300 to the Spanish Invasion 126
Archaeological Evidence for Period 2 Metallurgy 129
The Metallurgical Technology of Period 2: New Materials and New Designs 131
Lost-Wax Casting Bells 132
Cold and Hot Work: Sumptuary Items 139
Cold Work: Tools and Axe-monies 156
The Focus of Period 2 Metallurgy 168
6 Period 2: Origins and Transformations 170
Alloying 171
Alloys and Artifacts 180
Mechanisms of Introduction 184
The New Technology: West Mexican Alloys and Smelting Regimes 186
The West Mexican Interpretation 189
7 The Dissemination of West Mexican Metallurgy 196
Western Morelos: Cuexcomate and Capilco 202
Lamanai, Belize 208
The Huastee Region: Vista Hermosa and Platanito 216
Other Sites and Regions 219
Discussion 223
8 The Sounds and Colors of Power 226
Color 228
Sound 233
Sound, Metal, and Creation 246
The Social Context 248
Appendix 1 Technical Studies: Data and Methods 252
Measurements 253
The Study Corpus 254
Research Permissions 257
Appendix 2 Quantitative Chemical Analyses of Artifacts in the RMG Collection 260
Notes 274
References 282
Index 302
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