Cubans traded their gold for cheap brass pendants

From the Times Online: Cubans traded their gold for cheap brass pendants.

Recent research in Cuba has highlighted the contrast between European and ancient American values. Cheap brass dress accessories from Western Europe traded for many times their price in gold with Caribbean natives who prized the alloy more than the pure metal.

"It would have been impossible for the first Europeans arriving in the Caribbean to envisage the colossal value that their metal would accomplish in trade with the indigenous population,” write Marcos Martin-ón-Torres and his colleagues in the Journal of Archaeological Science. “Early chroniclers report that pure gold or caona was considered the least valuable metal, significantly less esteemed and less sacred than copper-based alloys."

As a result, burials in the Contact-period TaÍno cemetery of El Chorro de MaÍta, in the Banes area of northeastern Cuba, contained many more grave goods of nonprecious metal than of gold, and both TaÍno and Spaniard seem to have been happy with their commercial transactions. More than 120 burials were excavated, and distinctive grave goods appeared to mark different ranks in local society as well as specialised craftsmen.

"It was probably this scenario of societies with increasing social stratification that Columbus encountered when he first arrived in eastern Cuba in 1492," the authors say.

The most common artefact type in the graves was [continue]