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Knowledge of magnetism in ancient Mesoamerica: Precision measurements of the potbelly sculptures from Monte Alto, Guatemala

Fu, Roger R. and Kirschvink, Joseph L. and Carter, Nicholas and Chinchilla Mazariegos, Oswaldo and Chigna, Gustavo and Gupta, Garima and Grappone, Michael (2019) Knowledge of magnetism in ancient Mesoamerica: Precision measurements of the potbelly sculptures from Monte Alto, Guatemala. Journal of Archaeological Science, 106 . pp. 29-36. ISSN 0305-4403. http://resolver.caltech.edu/CaltechAUTHORS:20190417-110132078

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Abstract

Archeological finds from Mesoamerica and elsewhere in the New World have yielded intriguing yet inconclusive evidence for an early appreciation of magnetism among Native American peoples. Here we use scanning and handheld magnetometers to map the distribution of magnetization on eleven basalt potbelly sculptures from the Monte Alto site, now housed in La Democracia, Guatemala, dating from second half of the first millennium BCE. Our 1 cm resolution magnetic scans, performed on four sculptures, reveal for the first time that they were originally magnetized by lightning strikes pre-dating the carving process. We quantify the area and morphology of the magnetic anomalies, demonstrating that the correspondence between magnetic anomalies on the sculptures and specific anatomical features is non-random at the P = 0.01 level, which is consistent with the qualitative conclusion of an early study by Malmström (1976). The apparently intentional colocation of carved anatomical features and pre-existing magnetized regions implies that the sculptors were able to detect the presence of anomalous magnetic fields, which may have been facilitated by lodestones similar to iron oxide artifacts and iron-ore mirrors. Our observations strengthen the case for an awareness of magnetism in the ancient New World.


Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2019.03.001DOIArticle
ORCID:
AuthorORCID
Kirschvink, Joseph L.0000-0001-9486-6689
Additional Information:© 2019 Elsevier Ltd. Received 30 October 2018, Revised 4 March 2019, Accepted 5 March 2019, Available online 12 April 2019.
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20190417-110132078
Persistent URL:http://resolver.caltech.edu/CaltechAUTHORS:20190417-110132078
Official Citation:Roger R. Fu, Joseph L. Kirschvink, Nicholas Carter, Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos, Gustavo Chigna, Garima Gupta, Michael Grappone, Knowledge of magnetism in ancient Mesoamerica: Precision measurements of the potbelly sculptures from Monte Alto, Guatemala, Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 106, 2019, Pages 29-36, ISSN 0305-4403, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2019.03.001. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305440318305776)
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:94746
Collection:CaltechAUTHORS
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:17 Apr 2019 21:44
Last Modified:17 Apr 2019 21:44

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