Thursday, June 21, 2007

Incans Killed by Spanish Muskets: Proof that Photographs are more Powerful than History Books

The papers are full an exciting find: a young man's body, with skull pierced by a musket ball shot in 1536 by a Spanish conquistador during the siege of Lima, Peru.

This photo is credited to archaeologist Elena Goycochea, National Geographic and AP

A great discovery--but isn't it sad that bodies had to be found to draw attention to a battle that has been in the books for 460 years?

72 bodies were unearthed in a Lima suburb, and many showed signs of being bludgeoned and torn apart or impaled. At least three were shot. Archaeologists assume only the Spanish had guns, and the bludgeoning deaths were likely at the hands of Indians from enemy tribes, armed with clubs.

The Los Angeles Times story says that this "evidence casts the conquistadors in a less heroic light." Peruvian historians talk about the great cover-up. Heroic? In 2007, does anyone still think of the unbelievable barbarity of Pizarro, Cortez, and their followers as heroic? More tragic is the idea that a cover-up was taught in Peru until recently--which is the impression I get from the article.

The bodies were found in an Incan cemetery with at least 500 classic burials. The 72 that died at the siege of Lima were not posed as the other corpses in the cemetery, but were hastily wrapped and put in shallow graves without offerings.

In fact, when he first found the skull in the photograph above, the head archaeologist Guillermo Cock assumed he'd come across a modern crime victim. His second impression was that the bullet hole was modern, made by someone shooting into the ground. Forensic scientists in the U.S. figured out that the force of the impact and the trace of iron on the skull could only have been caused by 16th century European weapons, though.

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