Praeterea scitio, in Fundaribus, qui tractus est inter Mexicum, & Dariem, fodinas esse orichalci: quòd nullo igni, nullis Hispanicis atribus hactenus liquescere potuit.
Julius Caesar Scaliger (1557)
(Furtherore, in the foundries, it is known that there are deposits of a metal, which is mined between Mexico and Panama, that hitherto cannot be melted by fire nor by any Spanish techniques.)
This silver-like metal can be seen here. Although Europeans found it in South America between 1500 and 1550, they only learned to work with it in the late 18th century. Today it is more expansive than the gold and silver the Spaniards were looking for... They called it "little silver" because they couldn't melt it (+/- 1750 degrees celsius, versus iron 1540 degrees celsius); thus found it worthless... "plat-ina".
Platina was probably discovered by native Ecuadorians (of the so called La Tolita-Tumaco culture) around 700 BC. The Ecuadorian-Colombian border area remained the principal mining area until the arrival of the Spaniards.
Native Metallurgy: a world to discover
It is often assumed that American metallurgy before 1492 was somehow inferior to the metallurgy that was in use in the "Old World". One of the arguments is that the Amerindians lacked iron or bronze. The reasoning goes as follows: in Eurasia there was a Stone Age, a Copper Age, a Bronze Age, and an Iron Age. The Iron Age (which had started around 1500 BC) ended when the Roman Empire took over in Europe, around the time of Christ. In 1492, when Columbus entered the Americas, he was greeted by natives still living in the Stone Age. As a matter of fact, the superior European weapons, like the steel swords of Toledo, were one reason why the Spaniards conquered most of the American continent within 50 to 100 years. Today, remnants of the Stone Age Tribes that once inhabited America, can be found in the Amazonian rainforest.
Unfortunately, there is more than one error in this story.
Metallurgy in the "Old World"
People began woking metals in Eastern Europe, Anatolia (Turkey), the Caucasus, and Mesopotamia between 5000 and 4000 BC But it was in Mesopotamia that the Copper Age & Bronze age (+/- 3000 BC) really came to be. It was followed around 1500 BC by the Iron Age. The main problem with this story is that it only seems valid for the Middle East. Many places simple skipped an "Age". Most of Africa went directly from the "Stone Age" to the "Iron Age" between 1500BC and +/- AD 500. Also in East Asia, there wasn't really a Copper Age, and although bronze was (only) somewhat earlier than iron, bronze was mainly used for art (vessels, drums, etc) and in use long after the introduction of iron (mainly used for working tools). Another thing is that in Europe, the native Copper Age in the east collapsed around 3800, probably due to the scarcity of resources. It reapeared later, comming from the Middle East. By 2000 BC bronze from the British isles (with its huge tin mines) was very popular and spread over the continent. It was only when tin and copper (together bronze) became scarcer, that iron became popular. Gold and silver (both were, with copper, the first known metals) were never really used for making tools because they were to soft and scarce. They were however valued by most cultures and came into use as trade items (which in some cases evolved, just as copper did, in money).
Americas: Northern Traditions
Around the same time as in the "Old World", people in North America started to work with copper. This copper was extracted from the Great Lakes area. Eventually this tradition developed into the Old Copper Culture (from +/- 3500 BC).
West coast copper
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