History Files


Native Americas

'Earliest Gunshot Victim' Found

Edited from BBC News, 20 June 2007

The body of one of the first people thought to have been killed by gunfire in the Americas was found in a burial plot near Lima in Peru. A skull bearing a gunshot hole was discovered amongst the remains of seventy-two bodies in a suburb of the capital.

Archaeologists believed the bodies were those of ancient Incas killed by Spanish conquistadors shortly after their invasion of Peru. Forensics experts later used a powerful scanning microscope to discover fragments of metal on the skull.

There may have been Incas and other native people killed by Europeans before him, but this was the oldest known example so far. Peruvian archaeologist Guillermo Cock, who led the excavations in Lima, was quoted on the subject by the Washington Post newspaper. He said that he and his team did not expect to find a gunshot murder victim. When they saw the skull and witnessed the almost-round hole they suspected a much more recent shooting.

The forensics experts who analysed the skull tried to rule out all other possible causes for the hole, such as a rock from a slingshot, a spear, or a sledgehammer. They thought it would be a million-to-one chance that any traces of metal would be found on a skull that old, but they tried nonetheless.

Indigenous support

The skull was thought to have belonged to an Inca man who was involved in the 1536 siege of Lima. This and other bodies seemed to have been buried hastily in shallow graves instead of being wrapped and placed in the ground in the traditional Inca way.

Some of the bodies also showed signs of terrible violence. They had been hacked, torn, and impaled - injuries which 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.

The nature of the injuries found on the bodies - made with indigenous weapons such as stone axes and arrows - indicated that the conquistadors would have had some kind of native support to help in their conquest. The findings confirm that native support for the conquerors was very important. The chronicles do not acknowledge the participation of the natives though. They make out that a couple of dozen cavalrymen singlehandedly defeated the Inca troops in Lima.



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