Mesoamerican copper smelting technology aided colonial weaponry: Spanish conquerors depended on indigenous expertise to keep up their munitions supplies, archaeologists have found. – Science Daily

When Spanish invaders arrived in the Americas, they were generally able to subjugate the local peoples thanks, in part, to their superior weaponry technology. But archeological evidence indicates that, in at least one crucial respect, the Spaniards were quite dependent on an older indigenous technology in parts of Mesoamerica (today’s Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras).

The invaders needed copper for their artillery, as well as for coins, kettles, pans, but they lacked the knowledge skills to produce the metal. Even Spain at that time had not produced the metal domestically for centuries, relying on imports from central Europe. In Mesoamerica they had to depend on local smelters, furnace builders, miners to produce the essential material. Those skilled workers, in turn, were able to bargain for exemption from the taxes levied on the other indigenous people.

This dependence continued for at least a century, perhaps as long as two centuries or more, according to new findings published in the journal Latin American Antiquity, in a paper by Dorothy Hosler, professor of archeology ancient technology at MIT, Johan Garcia Zaidua, a researcher at the University of Porto, in Portugal.

The research, at the site of El Manchón, in Mexico, made use of information gleaned from more than four centuries worth of archeological features artifacts excavated by Hosler her crew over multiple years of fieldwork, as well as from lab work historical archives in Portugal, Spain, Mexico analyzed by Garcia.