March 31, 2008 / 10:37 PM / in 11 years

Necklace is oldest gold artifact in the Americas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A gold necklace found near Lake Titicaca in Peru dates back more than 4,000 years and is the oldest gold artifact found in the Americas, researchers said on Monday.

Radiocarbon dating of nearby material suggests the necklace, made of rolled tube-like beads, was made around 2100 BC, the researchers reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Anthropologist Mark Aldenderfer of the University of Arizona and colleagues discovered the necklace next to an adult skull in a burial pit at Jiskairumoko, a hamlet settled by hunter-gatherers from 3300 to 1500 BC.

“We sat on the discovery for a while for a number of reasons. One is that we wanted to have a chemical analysis of the gold done,” Aldendorfer said in a telephone interview.

“And the second was we didn’t want people who were local or anyone else to learn of the gold because we were afraid of looters.”

Those worries are gone.

“We finished our excavations in 2004. And the site was then plowed over by the local inhabitants who simply took it back to agriculture again. So, we’re not worried about looting. It was destroyed anyway,” Aldendorfer said.

He said the finding was unexpected as the people who lived at Jiskairumoko were in the beginning stages of agriculture.

“Most people have argued that gold and gold working like this should only be found in the societies of people who are settled village agriculturalists reliant on surplus production and, in fact, even in more complex societies,” he said.

The beads were made from local gold hammered flat and then rolled, and strung on wool string.

It shows someone had time to become more influential and important, he said.

“This reflects the social process of people becoming sedentary. When you become sedentary, all the rules of society begin to transform from a mobile lifestyle.”

Reporting by Will Dunham, writing by Maggie Fox

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