Archeologists find earliest gunshot victim
From the Los Angeles Times
By Thomas H. Maugh II
Times Staff Writer
5:19 PM PDT, June 19, 2007
Peruvian archeologists have identified the earliest documented gunshot victim in the Americas, an Inca warrior who was shot by Spanish conquistadores in 1536 in the aftermath of a battle now known as the siege of Lima.
The body was one of 72 apparent victims of the uprising found in a cemetery in the Lima suburb of Puruchuco during excavations for a new road, researchers reported Tuesday.
Many of the victims, including women and children, showed signs of terrible violence, having been hacked, torn or impaled, said archeologist Guillermo Cock of Peru's National Institute of Culture.
Spanish records indicate the battle, which occurred near the Lati Canal, took place on Wednesday, Aug. 14 as a small group of conquistadores attempted to track down a group of Inca who had fought them the day before.
The records maintain that a few hundred conquistadores, led by Francisco Pizarro, used their superior weaponry and their horses to repel an attack by tens of thousands of Inca led by Manco Yupanqui. After breaking the siege, the Spaniards tracked down and killed many of the Inca who had attacked, including the group at Puruchuco.
But the evidence casts the conquistadores in a less heroic light, Cock found. The archeological evidence makes it clear that the Spaniards were accompanied by a large group of Indians who were fighting the Inca to escape subjugation.
And while as many as three of the Inca warriors were clearly shot and others had injuries clearly made by the metallic weapons of the Spaniards, most of the 72 victims were bludgeoned with more primitive stone weapons wielded by other Indians.
"The great siege must have taken place in a very different manner than we have been told," said historian Efrain Trelles Arestegui of the Catholic University of Lima, who was not connected with the research. Only now, he added, are researchers revealing "the great cover-up that took place in the 16th century."
The find, announced by the National Geographic Society and featured in a PBS special later this month, "has enormous symbolic value," added explorer Keith Muscutt of the University of California, Santa Cruz. "We all have a mental image of indigenous people being destroyed by superior European technologies, and here it is -- tangible remains."
The Inca was undoubtedly not the first native shot by Spaniards in the 44 years between Columbus's arrival and the Inca's death. But the odds of finding such a victim are small, and the odds of finding a victim who could be linked so closely to documentary evidence are extremely small.
"Putting together all the evidence, we don't have a doubt about what happened," Cock said. "Sometimes we have to speculate in order to connect evidence and event. Here we found archeological evidence and the written record to connect it."
The site is only a half mile from the Lima shantytown where, in 2002, Cock reported the discovery of more than 2,200 Inca mummies and more than 60,000 artifacts, the largest trove ever unearthed in Peru.
Cock and archeologist Elena Goycochea of the institute were asked to investigate the new Puruchuco site in 2004 by the Lima city government, which planned to build a road there.
They have so far excavated more than 500 skeletons from the site, all dating from the Inca period. The bulk of them exhibit classic Inca burials. The skeletons are posed in a crouched position, carefully wrapped, and buried facing east toward the sunrise, making them ready for their re-birth.
But 72 of the skeletons were different. They were not crouched, they had been tied up or hastily wrapped, their graves were unusually shallow and they had been buried without offerings. Most of them showed evidence of violence -- many of quite severe violence.
One of the skeletons, in particular, had what appeared to be a bullet hole in its skull. Cock initially thought the male was the victim of a modern crime. Then, when it was clear that the bones were ancient, he feared that someone had been shooting into the ground at the site, damaging the skeletons.
Cock called in forensic scientists Tim Palmbach of the University of New Haven and Al Harper, executive director of the university's Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science.
"We were skeptical that it was a gunshot wound. We sought to disprove that," Palmbach said. "There is nothing we have found or evaluated that is inconsistent with a gunshot wound."
The team has since found what appear to be bullet holes in two of the other skeletons.
Wounds on many of the bodies could only have been produced by steel weapons, the team found, indicating that conquistadores must have been involved in the battle.
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