Nazca Gold Processing – The Ancient Method by Foot
After visiting the Chauchilla Cemetery, our guide, Hilda, recommended a side trip to the Nazca Gold Processing plant in the village of Nazca. Bob and I were very surprised to see that the processing is done by foot.
This was an eye opener! A modest wooden wall is all that can be seen from the roadway, but as we stepped over the threshold, a scene from pre-Inca times greeted us.
Hilda told us that local miners go to abandoned and closed mines up in the mountains around Nazca where they dig ore. They then bring that ore back to the town where they work at this gold processing plant to refine it. Unlike modern day gold processing methods, ancient Inca techniques are employed to remove the gold from the minerals.
The ore brought to this processing plant is broken up then put into a massive “mortar and pestle”-type receptacle. The miner then balances with his feet on a wooden platform that is secured to a huge boulder.
The miner rocks the huge boulder rhythmically back and forth thus creating the “pestle” action while the huge vat-like “mortar” is filled with broken ore, water and mercury. As the ore is ground increasingly finer, 40% of the gold is attracted to the mercury.
When the vat is too full of water, the contents overflow into a large square hole in the ground. The pulverized ore that contains the remaining gold settles in the square hole as mud. That mud is then moved to another square holding “tank”.
Once the final “tank” is full, the owner of the processing plant has the mud trucked to a refinery where the remaining 60% of the gold is removed. This 60% of the gold is of the finest quality. The miners who process the ore in their bare feet receive money for processing the lesser-quality 40% of the gold.
This is a rooftop scene in Nazca not far from the gold processing plant. Hilda told us that the town of Nazca is still rebuilding after the earthquake of 1996 leveled the town.
A trip downtown to the Nazca street market seemed like a good idea. In this market, hundreds of street vendors sell everything from papayas to guinea pigs to potatoes.
Just like the street markets in our own hometown of Toronto, market day is a flurry of activity.
Three different types of potatoes were being offered for sale by this street vendor. Peru is home to the world’s largest germplasm bank of potatoes in the world. The germplasm bank is run by the International Potato Centre in Lima. Of the 5,000 varieties of potatoes that they have collected from around the world, 2,500 of them are potato varieties from right here in Peru. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has traced every single potato species on the planet back to this southern area of Peru.
After buying some of her produce, Bob and I were rewarded with a smile from this charming vendor.
Fresh chickens on offer were but one of many fresh meats that customers could buy. Their bright yellow feet seemed to be waving goodbye as we took our leave of the market area. Our day certainly had been very interesting.