Anthropology Colloquium

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Date(s) - 20/10/2017
2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Anthropology Dept. AP 246


Professor David Killick, Professor of Anthropology, University of Arizona

Gold or Iron? Comparing the Production and Uses of Metals in the Andes and in Sub-Saharan Africa before 1500

The prehistories of metallurgy in the Andes and in sub-Saharan Africa could hardly be more different. In the Andes the focus was firmly upon gold and silver (sometimes alloyed with copper) to produce a range of colors for display of status and for religious ritual. Copper was smelted from at least the early centuries AD, and some of it was alloyed with arsenic, tin or nickel to make tools. But the smelting of copper was on so small a scale that it never entirely displaced stone tools in agriculture or warfare, and iron was never used before the arrival of the Spanish.   In some parts of sub-Saharan Africa gold was abundant, but Africans didn’t use or value it until the Muslim era, when Muslim demand for the metal was a major factor in the formation of states in West and Southern Africa. In most of sub-Saharan Africa, iron was the first metal used. The scale of the archaeological evidence for African iron production is vastly greater than that for the production of metals in the Andes. Copper was reserved in Africa for personal ornaments and as a means for storing wealth, but although there are many sources of tin ore in the subcontinent, there was no use of bronze before the Muslim era. I suggest that the striking differences in the production and uses of metals in these two subcontinents reflect fundamental, and quite stable, differences in beliefs about the inherent qualities of metals, and their proper roles in social life, in each region.




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