Machu Picchu is truly one of the wonders of the world. The spectacular ridge-top site of this city and the fine masonry of royal Inca buildings are stunning aesthetic and technical accomplishments. Early Spanish chroniclers reported "molten gold" was used as mortar during stone block construction, and a research paper by a chemist presents some intriguing insights.
For thousands of years the ancient Andean people revered gold and created exquisite gold art objects. This ultimately led to the fall of the Inca Empire when the metal lured Spanish conquistadores high into the Andes. Gold continues to be mined today, with adverse consequences for the environment and many Andean people.
Among the high peaks of the Andes Mountains, gold-bearing quartz veins in the granitic bedrock have been exposed by erosion from ice, wind and water. Numerous ancient small gold mines are found at altitudes that cluster around an impressively high elevation of 16,000 feet.
Rich deposits of metals, created by the dynamic geologic environment that built the rugged Andes Mountains, became intertwined with Andean cultures in the New World. The Incas and their ancestors created metal products primarily for aesthetic uses and for religious goods. This contrasts with Old World cultures, where the emphasis was on the mechanical properties of metals -- strength, hardness and sharpness—for tools and weapons.
An eagle image covered with multiple fangs and claws -- a creature with a swirl of serpents replacing the fur –– a scowling half human/half beast figure on a crown – all meticulously crafted from hammered sheets of gold. These objects are among the many exquisite pieces of art crafted by the Chavín...
The ancient Andeans revered shiny gold -- but there are dark sides to gold also. During my first trip to Peru I was chagrined to see numerious illegal gold mining operations. I recently found good articles discussing some of the associated environmental problems on a website written by Barbara Fraser (http://barbara-fraser.com/ ).
Gold and silver were revered by the Incas and their ancestors - and copper was also widely used, but not as highly regarded. An Inca myth gives insight into the cultural significance of these metals. [...]
In the world of the ancient Andeans, glittering gold played a profound role. The Incas and their ancestors crafted gold into prestige objects such as crowns, masks, ear spools and nose rings that indicated social [...]