ARCHAEOLOGY

America's first necklace

3 min

A 4,000-year-old jewel was unearthed by American archaeologists in Peru near Lake Titicaca. This work of art is one of the first discovered symbols of social status from early sedentary societies.

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Archeologists have unearthed a nearly 4,000-year-old necklace which shows that gold was being used as a status symbol in the Americas much earlier than previously thought, according to a study released Monday.

The necklace is the oldest gold artifact discovered in the Americas to date and was found in the remains of a burial site in the Lake Titicaca basin of southern Peru.

It shows that the complex social developments which lead to status displays were present while hunter-gatherers were just beginning to settle into permanent villages.

"This was a big surprise to us," said lead author Mark Aldenderfer of the University of Arizona, Tucson.

"Most people... tend to suggest that the only way you can have the creation and elaboration of even simple objects like this is when you've got sedentary village agriculturalists who generate an agricultural surplus which gets used to support prestige-building activities."

But the presence of the gold necklace in the grave of a hunter-gather whose tribe lived in a village for much, but not all of the year, shows how soon status symbols come into play in settled societies.

"This is a time when social roles are changing and there are a variety of new ones as well as competition for them, so the gold reflects some of that prestige and status competition during this time of change," Aldenderfer said in a telephone interview.

"It doesn't mean that the people who owned the gold were leaders in the sense of power over, these were people who had higher status and presumably higher wealth who were actively competing to use their status and prestige to form a basis for leadership."

The discovery shows the pathway to where the society would have persistent, permanent leaders who rule for generations, he said.

The necklace was made with nine gold beads which had been hammered into thick cylinders interspersed with 11 circular beads of a coarse green stone. The central gold bead had a turquoise stone attached through a perforation in the center.

The beads varied in length from 11.5 to 29 millimeters and weight from 1.5 to 5.2 grams. The edges of the beads showed distinctive hammer marks and were folded over rather than cut.

"The finding also supports the hypothesis of an early advent of gold working in relatively simple societies," Aldenderfer wrote in the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

However, it is unlikely that the necklace was made on site. It's likely that the owner either traveled to find the gold or else had enough wealth to trade with a traveler who had the gold, he told AFP.

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