Colonial and Pre-Inca Gold Processing Technology with a Bonus Sun Halo

Gold has been found in southern Peru’s Carabaya Province for centuries, if not, thousands of years. On our second day trip from Macusani, guide Ulices showed Rocío and I two historic gold processing sites in Corani District – one Spanish colonial, the other pre-Inca. Each site in the high Andes used different methods to apply similar processing principles.

Colonial Gold Processing

Not far from Corani town are the ruins of a gold mill set up by the Spanish rulers during colonial times. Gold ore was crushed between two millstones on a channel. The milled ore then washed into a pond with the heavier gold falling to the bottom and the lighter waste rock travelling downstream.

Spanish Colonial gold processing, Corani District, Peru

The colonial gold mill’s runner stone remains partially on top of the larger bed stone

Spanish colonial gold processing technology, Corani District, Peru

The gold ore was channelled through a hole into this pond below the mill

Spanish Colonial gold processing, Corani District, Peru

Gold sunk to the pond bottom and the lighter rock washed downstream through this outlet

Unfortunately, contemporary looters have partially destroyed the mill and surrounding ruins seeking gold. Ulices recalled the archaeological site being more complete in previous decades.

While at the colonial mill I witnessed my second sun halo, appearing like a circular rainbow in the sky. The first was in nearby Macusani.

Sun halo, Corani District, Carabaya Province, Puno Region, Peru

A circular sun halo in the Corani sky

Pre-Inca Gold Processing

Like the Spanish, pre-Incas also used water and rocks to extract gold in the Corani District.

The pre-Inca mill was based on a creek flowing downhill with side grooves. After blocking the creek up top, the ancient miners then placed gold ore and hard rocks in the upper grooves. Upon unblocking, water would rush down, smashing the ore and rocks against each other. As the ore moved downstream it was crushed finer, eventually becoming pure enough for the gold to be extracted and made into jewellery. Again, the heavier gold stayed on the bottom while the lighter waste rock washed away.

Pre-Inca Colonial gold processing, Corani District, Peru

The creek used by pre-Inca people for processing gold

Pre-Inca Colonial gold processing, Corani District, Peru

The creek had multiple side grooves for crushing gold ore

Pre-Inca Colonial gold processing, Corani District, Peru

Looking down into one of the side grooves

Pre-Inca Colonial gold processing, Corani District, Peru Rocío, Ulices and our vehicle driver looking at rounded stones that were likely utilised in the creek to crush the gold ore

Cactus, Corani District, Carabaya Province, Puno Region, Peru

A red and pink flowering cactus growing on a rock next to the pre-Inca gold processing creek

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