With NSF support, Mr. Colin Thomas will excavate the smelting site of Las Minas. Las Minas is a terraced natural hill site located along the Zaña river in the Department of Lambayeque, Peru. The primary purpose of the site appears to have been the extraction of metal from ore material, and surface survey indicates that Las Minas was inhabited from the Early Horizon (800-200 B.C.) to the Chimu period (A.D. 1000-1470). Las Minas has the potential of being the earliest smelting site yet excavated on the Peruvian coast as well as one of very few Chimu metallurgical sites known to date. Thomas' research will focus on the physical and chemical analysis of recovered smelting byproducts and furnace remains to determine the exact physical processes that were used at Las Minas through time. This project will also involve the excavation of the residences of the metalworkers and the analysis of resulting ceramic and subsistence remains in order to determine the social standing and affiliation of the smelters at Las Minas. The laboratory component of this project will require the use of optical metallography as well as elemental analysis techniques, and Mr. Thomas will oversee the creation of a new optical metallography laboratory at a local museum in Lambayeque, Peru to facilitate this analysis. The Andean region, and the North Coast of Peru in particular, was the site of large scale and long- term metallurgical activity. However, nearly all available information about the nature of Andean metallurgy currently comes from the study of finished artifacts. This stands in contrast to the understanding of metallurgical developments in other regions, such as Africa, Anatolia and Europe, where the development of smelting has played a central role. In order to advance the understanding of metallurgy in Peruvian prehistory it is necessary to combine the analysis of finished artifacts with the full range of steps necessary to create them, including the preceding steps necessary to acquire ore and smelt it to metal. Acquiring this detailed information about the physical processes used at Las Minas is a first step towards understanding the broader social context of smelting in the Andes. It is known that Andean smiths were concerned with the use of certain colors to indicate social status and ritual information as well as other guiding ideological principles. It is very likely that the smelting processes were directed by a similarly intricate web of non-technical meaning. Understanding this web requires a detailed study of the remnants of smelting, so that one can identify the traces of technological choice encoded within the physical data. Excavations at Las Minas will also result in the creation of a new optical metallography lab in Lambayeque as well as the training of several Peruvian graduate students in both field and laboratory techniques. The research will be disseminated in peer-reviewed journals both in the United States and Peru, and the raw data will be made available to the public online. Mr. Thomas will also present the findings of his research at the SAA meetings as well as other archaeological conferences.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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John E. Yellen
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Yale University
New Haven
United States
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