Institute of Archaeology


Archaeometallurgy in the Americas

The technical quality and aesthetic beauty of the Pre-Columbian metalwork of Central and South America have long fascinated scholars and the public alike. However, the existing picture of Pre-Columbian metallurgy in America remains rather generalising and, as such, archaeologically simplistic. With some notable exceptions, much previous work has downplayed the role of humbler metallurgical traditions, the importance of archaeological contexts, and the changes deriving from cultural interaction among indigenous communities, and between these and early European colonists.

The main aim of this research network is to enhance and diversify our understanding of the production, use and value of metals in America before and after Christopher Columbus, as a proxy for the underlying diversity of cultural and historical contingencies. The network proposes to pursue this aim by developing a coherent set of high-resolution, contextual approaches to specific case studies, focusing on:

  • well-defined indigenous metal-producing or metal-using regions, as a starting point to identify technological traditions and document regional variability
  • contact-period contexts of metal production and use, to explore the role of metals in the European colonial quest as well as indigenous responses to the contact through adaptation, syncretism and rejection as recorded in the use of metals 
  • technical studies of indigenous production sites (as opposed to finished artefacts), to begin to fill this very significant gap in our knowledge

This research network capitalises on the Institute’s expertise in archaeometallurgy and the archaeology of America, as well as on an existing network of contacts with a range of universities, museums and laboratories. The research network's work will cover a range of case studies in Cuba, Belize, Colombia, Chile, Argentina and North America.

Related outputs

  • Treasures Decoded: The Golden Raft of El Dorado (Film broadcast 05/2013). 
  • Uribe Villegas, M.A., Martinón-Torres, M. 2012. Composition, colour and context in Muisca votive metalwork (Colombia, AD 600–1800). Antiquity 86 (333): 772-791.
  • Valcárcel Rojas R., Martinón-Torres M., Cooper J. and Rehren, Th. 2010. Turey Treasure in the Caribbean. In S. Kepecs, A. Curet and G. de la Rosa (eds), Beyond the Blockade: New Currents in Cuban Archaeology, 106-125. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
  • Hudgins, C. C., Martinón-Torres, M. and Rehren, Th. 2009. From the mines to the colonies: archaeolgical evidence for the exchange and metallurgical usage of English copper in early seventeenth-century Ireland and Virginia, in A. Horning and N. Brannon (eds), Ireland and Britain in the Atlantic World, 157-180. (Irish Post-Medieval Archaeology Group Proceedings 2). Dublin: Wordwell.
  • Martinón-Torres, M., Cooper, J., Valcárcel Rojas, R. and Rehren, Th.2008. Diversifying the picture: Indigenous responses to European arrival in Cuba. Archaeology International 10, 37-40.
  • Cooper, J., Martinón-Torres, M. and Valcárcel Rojas, R. 2008. American gold and European brass: metal objects and indigenous values in the cemetery of El Chorro de Maíta, Cuba, in C. L. Hofman, M. L. P. Hoogland and A. Van Gijn (eds), Crossing the Borders: New methods and techniques in the study of material culture in the Caribbean. Alabama: University of Alabama Press.
  • Martinón-Torres, M., Valcárcel Rojas, R., Cooper, J. and Rehren, Th. 2007. Metals, microanalysis and meaning: a study of metal objects excavated from the indigenous cemetery of El Chorro de Maíta, Cuba. Journal of Archaeological Science 34(2): 194-204.
  • Valcárcel Rojas, R., Martinón-Torres, M., Cooper, J. and Rehren, Th. 2007. Oro, guanines y latón. Metales en contextos aborígenes de Cuba. El Caribe Arqueológico 10, 116-131.


  • EU Marie Curie Early Stage Training Action in Science, Conservation and Archaeology (FP6)
  • Eu-ARTECH (FP6)
  • British Academy