June 20, 2007

First gunshot victim in the Americas

Inca Skull Rewrites History of ConquestArchaeologists sensed they had unearthed an important find, but it wasn't until months later that a powerful electron microscope scan confirmed it by finding traces of lead in the skull. The victim, who was between 18 and 22 years old when he died, had been shot by a Spanish conquistador.

Given the age of the remains, as well as the age of other remains buried nearby, the archaeologists came to the conclusion that they had identified the earliest victim of a gunshot wound ever found in the Americas.
What this find signifies:The history of the Incas' rapid defeat and decline, written almost entirely by the Spanish victors, has emphasized the valor and skill of the greatly outnumbered Europeans. Cock said the relatively new field of Inca archaeology is beginning to rewrite some of that story.

For instance, Cock said, there is good reason to believe the young gunshot victim died during the siege of Lima in 1536--one of numerous Inca uprisings following the execution of their leader, Atahualpa, by the Spanish. He also said there is archaeological and historical evidence to suggest those insurrections were put down with the help of native peoples who opposed the Incas' rule.
The larger point about the clash of cultures:The fast decline of the Incas has generally been attributed to the far more advanced Spanish weaponry, the spread of European diseases to which native people had no immunity, and malnutrition and illness caused by the harsh working conditions imposed by the colonists.

Cock said all those factors doubtless played a role, but the ability of the Spaniards to establish native allies was also important and has been generally ignored.

"They joined Pizarro in the hope of being rewarded with more independence and freedom," Cock said. "I believe they wanted a more equal, more horizontal relationship with the Spaniards. Clearly, that did not happen."
Comment:  This point also applies to Cortés's victories over the Aztecs. In fact, it applies to many of the European victories over Indians. The Europeans didn't win because they were superior morally, intellectually, or technologically. They didn't win because "primitive" Natives cowered at the sight of horses or guns. They won because they played one tribe against another, especially in the case of the unloved Inca and Aztec empires.

For more on the subject, see Was Native Defeat Inevitable? and The Myth of Western Superiority.

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