An Archaeological Conundrum

When the Europeans first began their exploits (both meanings of the word intended) in the Americas, they encountered a wide range of cultures and people groups. The Arawak in Hispanola to the Aztecs in Mexico and the Incas in Peru – they were all diverse in their behavior and language.

But they all knew about gold and silver. Most could smelt gold and even those who could not were in contact with cultures that could and did use gold.

Here’s the thing. None of them knew about bronze or used any other metals for weapons or tools. Even the Incan empire was built on what we would consider Stone Age technology.

Why?

How could a culture that figured out how to extract and refine some metals NOT at least stumble on the processes necessary to work others?

Once exposed to the steel tools of the Europeans, the native Americans quickly learned the technology and could make iron and steel for themselves. (The fact that it was forbidden to teach blacksmithing to Indians should tell you something!)

Why?

I’m in a conundrum. There has to be a reason that the native Americans did not develop bronze or iron or at least copper smelting. It certainly was not because they natives were more primitive than the Europeans. They were just as intelligent (if not more so) than the European invaders.

And it was not because they did not have access to the raw materials. Brazil and Peru have substantial tin deposits.

I can understand the Pitjantjatjara (Australian aborigines) not developing bronze because they engaged in no metallurgy prior to the appearance of Europeans. But the native Americans did, and they were somewhat skilled in their metal working. They just never did anything with bronze or iron.

Again…I’m stymied.

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