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The Perfect Site

Over the last three years, Hosler and her students have spent months excavating structures and studying materials at El Manchon to answer questions about how pre-Columbian Mesoamericans smelted. Its an area not well understood, but Hosler believes that understanding the metal-making process can shed light on, among other things, the values indigenous peoples held. For example, by analyzing the chemical composition of the slag, Hosler can get a picture of the kind of metalits color and strength, for examplethat indigenous peoples preferred. Chemical analysis also provides clues to the type of ore favored and the temperature at which it was processed. By piecing the clues together, Hosler is already drawing some preliminary conclusions about how the people of El Manchon used their resources. Her analysis shows significant amounts of copper in the slag. In other cultures, slag is typically reprocessed to extract the remaining bits of copper. But the people of El Manchon appear to have only processed the ore once. Hosler guesses that the ore in the area was so rich in copper that it did not require reprocessing.

In addition to studying exactly how pre-Columbian Mesoamericans smelted ore, Hosler hopes to answer larger questions about the lives of indigenous metalworkers in Mexico. Evidence at El Manchon indicates that people lived very close to the smelting site year round. Hosler found residential buildings littered with broken pieces of cookware and other domestic pottery, which would most likely not have been present at a site used only by seasonal workers. Hosler also unearthed a perplexing structure that appears to have had religious significance. The building has nine mysterious holes in the floor and houses a stela, a vertical rock that was for Mesoamerican people a religious symbol. A small pot beneath the stela probably accommodated a religious offering that could be burned. Hosler says its unusual for a religious building to be right in the middle of a loud, dirty industrial area, and she is excited to study the structure further. Its one of a kind, she says. Its like nothing Ive ever seen.

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