First Known Gunshot Victim in Americas Discovered

Kelly Hearn in Buenos Aires, Argentina
for National Geographic News
June 19, 2007

The first known gunshot victim in the Americas was an Inca Indian killed by a musket-wielding Spaniard nearly 500 years ago in Peru, scientists announced today. (See pictures and watch video.)

The casualty's skeleton was discovered in 2004 while excavating an Inca cemetery in the Lima suburb of Puruchuco—less than a mile from thousands of Inca mummy bundles discovered by Peruvian archaeologist Guillermo Cock.

The individual may have been killed during an Inca uprising against Spanish conquistadors in 1536, according to Cock, who also led the new excavations.

Battle Scarred

The archaeologist has retrieved some 500 skeletons from the Puruchuco graves between 2004 and 2007.

Seventy-two of the individuals had been wrapped in simple cloth and chaotically buried in shallow graves. Their lack of traditional adornments and offerings—jewelry, pots for food, or headdresses, for example—suggests that the burials had been hastily prepared, as if during a period of civil unrest.

Many of the skeletons bore signs of violent hacking, tearing, and impalement with iron weapons.

Notably, one of the skulls bore entrance and exit wounds like those seen in shooting victims. A small piece of bone that appeared to have been shot out of the skull was found nearby.

"We thought it was a person killed recently—5, 10 or 20 years ago," Cock said. "We didn't expect the individual would have been killed by a bullet 500 years ago."

But the team soon realized that the individual was a Peru native dating to the Inca period, he said.

Moreover, the bone fragment showed evidence of a less forceful impact than a modern weapon would have made.

The skull fragment also bore a concave imprint suggestive of a musket ball.

Continued on Next Page >>




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