Thursday, June 21, 2007

Earliest Gunshot Victim in the New World

The NY Times and LA Times both carried pieces on a gunshot wound found in an Incan burial near Lima, Peru that dates to the 1530s, the period of the Spanish conquest. According to them, it is the earliest documented gunshot wound found in the New World, likely administered by one of the conquistadores.

These are both very interesting pieces about an interesting find and I urge you to read them, but the "earliest gunshot wound" aspect of the stories is really a public relations ploy, in this case presumably by the National Geographic Society. I'm sure finding the earliest gunshot wound hasn't been a research goal of any archaeologist working in Peru. Also, this most assuredly isn't the earliest gunshot wound in the New World. Francisco Pizzaro conquered Peru in 1531 - 1536, twenty years after Hernan Cortes conquered Mexico in 1519 - 1521. I would imagine that if some Mexican archaeologists were motivated to review their late Aztec collections they could likely find an earlier example. If they can't, it's probably just a matter of time before they do. And that doesn't even take into account people Columbus or others might have shot prior to the conquest of Mexico.

In one of my early archaeology jobs, I worked on the excavation of the King Site in northwest Georgia. It is a proto-historic Creek village, now generally believed to be one of the villages visited by Hernando de Soto, a veteran of the conquest of Peru, during his entrada in the Southeast in 1539 - 1542. We were excavating burials that showed pretty clear evidence of cut and stab wounds by steel edged weapons - physical anthropologist Robert Blakely described them in an article in American Antiquity in 1990. Alas, we had no gunshot wounds. But I don't think it would have occurred to Dave Hally and Pat Garrow, who were running the project, to go to the papers to claim they had the "earliest metal edged weapons wounds" in North America. I guess we lacked the publicity gene.

Finally, I found it interesting that the LA Times piece goes off into some conquistador bashing:

" The records maintain that a few hundred conquistadors, led by Francisco Pizarro, used their superior weaponry and their horses to repel an attack by tens of thousands of Incas led by Manco Yupanqui. After breaking the siege, the Spaniards tracked down and killed many of the Incas who had attacked, including the group at Puruchuco.

But the evidence casts the conquistadors in a less heroic light, Cock found. The archeological evidence makes it clear that the Spaniards were accompanied by a large group of Indians who were fighting the Incas to escape subjugation.

Although as many as three of the Inca warriors were clearly shot and others had injuries apparently made by the Spaniards' metallic weapons, most of the 72 victims apparently were bludgeoned with more primitive stone weapons wielded by other Indians."

Anyone with more than a nodding acquaintance with the history of the Mexican and Peruvian conquests knows that these were really rebellions of subject peoples of the Aztec and Incan empires, led by small numbers of Spanish troops. For example, when Cortes attacked the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan in 1521, his army consisted of 900 Spaniards and 50,000 Indians. And the Spanish accounts make this very clear.

1 comment:

Matt Mullenix said...

Fantastic stuff Reid. Thanks!