Archaeologists may not be fashion divas, but they dig antique jewelry. Consider the discovery of 4,000-year-old gold and stone beads in southeastern Peru. These crafted items, the oldest examples of worked gold in the Americas by about 600 years, were strung together into a necklace, say Mark Aldenderfer of the University of Arizona in Tucson and his colleagues.
An excavation of a burial pit containing the partial remains of an adult and a child at a small site called Jiskairumoko turned up the ancient gold necklace. Nine gold and 11 stone beads lay interspersed in a circle just under the adult’s jaw. Distinctive marks on the beads indicate that gold nuggets were flattened with a stone hammer and bent around a hard, cylindrical object to form tube-shaped beads, in Aldenderfer’s view.
Radiocarbon measurements of burned wood found near the jaw provided the age estimate.
Earlier research at the site indicated that a hunter-gatherer group lived there seasonally, probably from spring into summer. At the time, these people were shifting from a nomadic to a sedentary, village life, according to Aldenderfer’s team.
The finding challenges the traditional view that techniques for making high-status, gold objects emerged only in complex societies capable of generating and storing large food surpluses. The ancient folk at Jiskairumoko inhabited a simpler setting, storing relatively little food. Nonetheless, they fashioned gold into a necklace that signaled the social prestige of its wearer, the researchers conclude in the April 1 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.