Title: "Technological choices over the longue durée: why were the metallurgical technologies of the Andes and of sub-Saharan Africa so very different?"
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Abstract: Metallurgical technologies in precolonial Africa and the Andes were polar opposites of each other. Smelting technology was far more advanced in Africa than in South America, with iron and steel produced in substantial quantities. The manufacture of flaked stone tools was therefore soon abandoned, except by marginal hunter-gatherers. Iron was never produced in the Andes, and copper alloys were still too scarce to be much used in agriculture or warfare by the Spanish conquest in the early 1500’s. But Andean metallurgists made massive and highly skilled use of gold and silver. Both of these metals were totally ignored in sub-Saharan Africa (except in Nubia and Axumite Ethiopia) until after 800 AD, when the first use of gold was stimulated by demand from the Muslim world. Bronze (an alloy of copper and tin) was widely used in the central Andes for decorative and ritual purposes. Although Africa has abundant deposits of tin, bronze was made in only two small regions of Africa, and then only after contact with the Muslim world.
Why was the use of metals so different in these two subcontinents? I argue that this reflects very different, and very stable, beliefs about the intrinsic qualities and appropriate social roles of metals, and also reflects the very different expression of power in African and Andean societies.