Volume 45, Issue 3 p. 138-154
Research article

Analysis of the spectacular gold and silver from the Moche tomb ‘Señora de Cao’

R. Cesareo

Corresponding Author

R. Cesareo

Dipartimento di Matematica e Fisica, Università di Sassari, Sassari, Italy

Istituto per lo studio dei materiali nano strutturati, CNR-Montelibretti, Rome, Italy

Correspondence to: Roberto Cesareo, Istituto di Matematica e Fisica, Università di Sassari; via Nulauro 3, 07041 Alghero, Italy.

E-mail: [email protected]

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R. Franco Jordan

R. Franco Jordan

PACEB Museo Cao (Fundación Wiese), Trujillo, Peru

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A. Fernandez

A. Fernandez

PACEB Museo Cao (Fundación Wiese), Trujillo, Peru

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A. Bustamante

A. Bustamante

Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Lima, Perù

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J. Fabian

J. Fabian

Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Lima, Perù

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S. del Pilar Zambrano

S. del Pilar Zambrano

Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Lima, Perù

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S. Azeredo

S. Azeredo

COPPE, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

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R. T. Lopes

R. T. Lopes

COPPE, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

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G. M. Ingo

G. M. Ingo

Istituto per lo studio dei materiali nano strutturati, CNR-Montelibretti, Rome, Italy

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C. Riccucci

C. Riccucci

Istituto per lo studio dei materiali nano strutturati, CNR-Montelibretti, Rome, Italy

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G. Di Carlo

G. Di Carlo

Istituto per lo studio dei materiali nano strutturati, CNR-Montelibretti, Rome, Italy

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G. E. Gigante

G. E. Gigante

Dipartimento di Scienze di base ed applicate per l'ingegneria, Università di Roma ‘La Sapienza’, Rome, Italy

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First published: 26 January 2016
Citations: 32

Abstract

On the north coast of present-day Peru, between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, approximately between 100 and 600 ad, the Moche civilization prospered. The Moche were very sophisticated artisans and metal smiths, so that they are considered the finest producers of jewels and artifacts of the region. Their metalworking ability was impressively demonstrated by the excavations of the tomb of the ‘Lady of Cao’ (dated around third–fourth century ad) discovered by Regulo Franco in 2005. Impressive is the beauty of the artifacts, and also the variety of metallurgical solutions, demonstrated by not only the presence of objects composed of gold and silver alloys but also of gilded copper, gilded silver, and tumbaga, a poor gold Cu-Au alloy subject to depletion gilding.

About 100 metal artifacts from the tomb of the Lady of Cao, never before analyzed, were studied by using various portable equipments based on following non-destructive and non-invasive methods:

  • energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence with completely portable equipments;
  • transmission of monenergetic X-rays;
  • radiographic techniques; and
  • optical microscopy.

Gold objects and gold areas of nose decorations are characterized by approximately the same composition, that is, Au = (79.5 ± 2.5) %, Ag = (16 ± 3) %, and Cu = (4.5 ± 1.5) %, while silver objects and silver areas of the same nose decorations show completely erratic results, and a systematic high gold concentration. Many gilded copper and tumbaga artifacts were identified and analyzed. Further, soldering gold–silver was specifically studied by radiographs.

Additional measurements are needed, particularly because of the suspect that depletion gilding was systematically employed also in the case of some nose decorations. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.