Preindustrial Copper Production at the Archaeological Zone of Itziparátzico, a Tarascan Location in Michoacán, México

Open Access
Maldonado, Blanca Estela
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
August 24, 2006
Committee Members:
  • Kenneth Gale Hirth, Committee Chair
  • Paul Raymond Howell, Committee Member
  • Helen P Pollard, Committee Member
  • Thilo Rehren, Committee Member
  • David Lee Webster, Committee Member
  • William T Sanders, Committee Member
  • Ancient Technologies
  • Preindustrial Copper Production
  • Tarascan State
  • Mesoamerican Metallurgy
  • Craft Production
  • Archaeometallurgy
Mesoamerican copper metallurgy developed in West México sometime between A.D. 600 and 800, and over the next 900 years a wide variety of artifacts was produced. At the time of the Spanish Conquest the main locus of metal production in Mesoamerica was the Tarascan region of western México. Scholars have argued that mining and metallurgy evolved into a state industry, as metal adornments used as insignias of social status and public ritual became closely associated with political control. In spite of its importance, however, Tarascan metallurgy is poorly documented. The extractive processes involved and the organization of the different aspects of this production are virtually unknown. This thesis outlines the design, implementation and results of an archaeological project carried out at Itziparátzico, a Tarascan locality near Santa Clara del Cobre, México, where evidence indicates that copper metal production took place from the Late Postclassic throughout the Contact period, and continues until today. This pioneer research has required the employment of multiple strands of evidence, including archaeological survey and excavation, ethnoarchaeology, experimental replication, and archaeometallurgy. Intensive surface survey located concentrations of manufacturing byproducts (i.e. slag) on surface that represented potential production areas. Stratigraphic excavation and subsequent archaeometallurgical analysis of physical remains have been combined with ethnohistorical and ethnoarchaeological data, as well as comparative analogy, to propose a model for prehispanic copper production among the Tarascans. The goal of this analysis is to gain insights into the nature of metal production and its role in the major state apparatus. Although small in scale, this study provides valuable insights into the development of technology and political economy in ancient Mesoamerica and offers a contribution to general anthropological theories of the emergence of social complexity.