Spanish conquistadors in Mexico had to ask indigenous smelters to make ammunition for them after running short of supplies, archeologists discover
- Researchers in Mexico studied copper slag samples at an old Spanish outpost
- The slag came from improvised smelting operations used to process copper
- The smelting operations were run by indigenous people to keep the Spanish occupiers supplied with ammunition
Archeologists in Mexico have recovered four centuries of artifacts showing how Spanish occupiers enlisted indigenous metal workers to help them produce ammunition for their guns and cannons.
A team of researchers from MIT and the University of Porto spent four seasons at an excavation site in El Manchón, Mexico studying copper slag samples from improvised smelting operations set up by the occupying Spanish forces.
The samples show how the occupiers struggled to keep themselves supplied with munitions made from locally available metals to maintain the small colonial outpost at the site between at least 1240 and 1680.
A team of researchers from MIT and the University of Porto studied artifacts from copper smelting operation that indigenous artisans operated on behalf of Spanish invaders to keep them supplied with ammunition
‘We know from documents that the Europeans figured out that the only way they could smelt copper was to collaborate with the indigenous people who were already doing it,’ MIT’s Dorothy Hosler told MIT News.
‘They had to cut deals with the indigenous smelters.’
In Spain, metal was mostly imported from central European countries, and the occupiers found themselves unsure of how to create effective smelting operations to resupply their munitions.
Smelting was a common practice among indigenous people in western and central Mexico at the time.
Indigenous people used blowpipes and small metal and clay pots called crucibles to melt copper and alloy it with arsenic, tin and silver to produce religious and decorative objects like bells and amulets.
In exchange for an exemption from colonial taxes that were levied on the general population, the Spaniards enlisted the help of these local smelting experts to produce munitions.
The smelting operations appeared to be a hydrib design, using a European-style hand operated bellows to fire a small furnace, with carved clay or stone channels for the molten copper to flow out of
Researchers spent four seasons gathering samples from the excavation site in El Manchón, Mexico, but finally had to suspend their efforts after drug cartel activity in the region made it too dangerous to continue
The resulting metallurgy operation appears to be a hybrid of local and European techniques, with a hand operated bellow made from animal hide powering a small furnace that heated the copper to at least 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The melted copper was then channeled out through small channels carved in stone or clay and then formed into ammunition and other objects.
Over the years, large samples of copper slag formed around this area of the smelting setup, and analysis of the recovered samples show the slag could not have been produced by the lower temperature blowpipe operations indigenous people relied on for their own material.
While many questions still remain about the relationship between the Spanish occupiers and the indigenous population, the team had to cut their research short after drug cartel activity in the region made it unsafe for them to continue their work.
WHAT WAS THE SPANISH CONQUEST?
Backed by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, Christopher Columbus led four voyages which expanded the Spanish Empire’s rule to the Americas.
Colonisation began in 1492 with the arrival of Columbus in the Caribbean.
Spain’s colonial power continuously grew with settlements in Hispaniola, Cuba and Puerto Rico.
In 1513, the Spaniards stretched their influence to what today is known as Florida, the southern state of the United States.
Francisco Hernández de Córdoba led a failed invasion when he landed in the Yucatan peninsula in 1517.
The expedition failed when his army was almost completely wiped out during a battle in the town of Champotón against the Mayans.
Hernán Cortés would later find success in conquering the Aztec empire, a battle he first initiated with 500 men in 1519.
The Aztects lived in Central Mexico from the 14th to the 16th Centuries.
Cortés formed an alliance with other native tribes to invade the Aztec Empire’s capital city of Tenochtitlán.
The Spanish would overpower the Aztec Empire, capturing its last ruler Cuauhtémoc on August 13, 1521, thus converting Mexico into another Spanish colony.
In 1696, King Charles II issued an order that made Spanish the official language as colonisers were no longer required to learn the indigenous languages.
Mexico started its march towards independence with a series of battles that started brewing in 1810.
It gained its independence in September 1821.
Mexico was the first colony whose independence was recognised the Spaniards.