Americas' Oldest Gold Artifact Discovered

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"Of course, the discovery of the burial with the gold was kind of an extra at that point—it was completely unexpected."

Aldenderfer and his colleagues dated the site using a fragment of wood charcoal found in association with the burial.

Mark of Status?

Researchers suspect that the bones found in the pit belong to a female, because all the other burials at the site from this time frame are of women.

"We're fairly certain this necklace was used as a real mark of high status for this individual," Aldenderfer said.

"That doesn't mean they were an important political leader, but it does mean that the individual had a certain level of prestige and connections to the world to be able to obtain this necklace."

John Hoopes, an anthropologist at the University of Kansas who was not involved with the study, said the link between gold and status in some ancient cultures remains unclear.

(See related photos: "Gold-Mining, Burial Artifacts Unearthed on Nile" [June 19, 2007].)

"I think the statement that the individual who had the gold necklace was wealthy and important runs the risk of circular reasoning: Did this person have gold because they were wealthy and important, or were they wealthy and important because they had gold?" Hoopes said.

"The main implication of this discovery is that gold was being used for ornamentation before the appearance of complex social organization," he added.

"The people of Jiskairumoko apparently valued gold because it was a pretty, noncorroding, malleable material."

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