New World’s first gunshot victim identified
Jun 22,2007 00:00 by UPI

Ar­chae­o­lo­gists have un­cov­ered the ske­l­e­ton of the first doc­u­mented gun­shot vic­tim in the New World in an In­ca cem­e­tery out­side Li­ma, Pe­ru. The body is thought to be the first fo­ren­sic­ally prov­en cas­u­al­ty of the Span­ish con­quest, one of 72 ap­par­ent vic­tims of an up­ris­ing against the con­quis­ta­dors.

The find, from a team led by Pe­ruvian ar­chae­o­lo­gist and Na­tional Ge­o­graph­ic grant­ee Guillermo Cock, was an­nounced June 20 by the Na­tional Ge­o­graph­ic So­ci­e­ty.

Courtesy National Geographic

Cock, who has worked more than 20 years to un­der­stand these In­di­an gravesites, had dug a test trench in a hill­side in the sub­urb of Pu­ru­chu­co at the re­quest of the Li­ma city gov­ern­ment, which planned a road there. In the trench, Cock and ar­chae­o­lo­gist col­league El­e­na Goy­co­chea struck a set of graves and con­clud­ed that the spot had been a cem­e­tery. 

Since they be­gan dig­ging in 2004, the team has ex­ca­vat­ed about 500 skel­e­tons dat­ing back some 500 years to the In­ca civ­il­iz­a­tion. Called the “Ro­mans of the New World,” the In­ca con­quered the en­tire An­de­an re­gion un­til their reign ended in 1532 with the Span­ish in­va­sion.

Cock found that 72 of the bod­ies on the hill­side had been bur­ied with­out the usu­al In­ca rev­er­ence for death, such as be­ing rit­u­ally wrapped, placed in a crouched po­si­tion and fac­ing east. “These bod­ies were strangely bur­ied,” Cock said. “They were not fac­ing the right di­rec­tion, they were tied up or hastily wrapped in a sim­ple cloth, they had no of­fer­ings and they were bur­ied at a shal­low depth. Some of the bod­ies al­so showed signs of ter­ri­ble vi­o­lence. They had been hacked, torn, im­paled—in­juries that looked as if they had been caused by iron weapon­s—and sev­er­al had in­ju­ries on their heads and faces that looked as if they were caused by gun­shots.”

One of the skulls bore an en­trance and ex­it wound, and near­by a plug of bone that might have been blast­ed out of the skull was found. At first, Cock thought the holes in the skull were mod­ern—re­sult­ing from van­dals. But the plug of bone, recov­ered in­tact, re­flected an im­pact much less force­ful than any mod­ern gun­shot and car­ried a dis­tinct con­cave im­print highly sug­ges­tive of a mus­ket ball, they said.

Fur­ther tests, in­clud­ing scan­ning for traces of met­al, con­firmed the hunch, they added. Edges of the holes in the skull and the en­tire bone plug were found to be im­preg­nated with frag­ments of iron, a met­al some­times used for Span­ish mus­ket balls. It ap­pears that a mus­ket ball less than an inch in di­am­e­ter had punched in­to the back of the skull and passed through the head, leav­ing pieces of iron deep in­side the bone that stayed there for 500 years.

The guns used to in­flict these in­ju­ries would have been some of the world’s first firearms—16th-century Eu­rope’s most ad­vanced mil­i­tary tech­nol­o­gy, ac­cord­ing to mil­i­tary his­to­ri­an John Guil­martin of West Point Mil­i­tary Acad­e­my. “The Spaniards knew how to use them,” he said.

Cock and his team be­lieve the killings took place in the sum­mer of 1536 dur­ing an In­ca up­ris­ing against the Span­ish oc­cu­piers led by Fran­cis­co Pi­zar­ro, known as the siege of Li­ma. Among the 72 hastily bur­ied bod­ies were sev­er­al wom­en and ado­les­cents. Cock said these would not have been sol­diers but at­ten­dants and sup­port­ers of the war­riors, who cooked, car­ried sup­plies and took care of the in­jured.

The bod­ies were hastily bur­ied most likely be­cause the In­ca, in the midst of the up­ris­ing, had no time or re­sources to bury their dead in the ap­pro­pri­ate, tra­di­tion­al man­ner.

Courtesy Cell Press and World Science staff