Introducing intertwined themes of profit, the hunt for treasure, and the excavation of camelid bodies; and drawing from the analysis of Renaissance medical books, bilingual Aymara–Spanish and Quechua–Spanish dictionaries, inquisition records, and inventories of curiosity cabinets, this essay considers how Peruvian bezoar stones acquired transatlantic importance following their discovery in 1568 by a Spanish soldier. In spite of its less-than-glamorous physiological genesis as a calcinated concretion formed in the digestive tract of ruminants, including the four species of Andean camelids, the bezoar stone played a significant yet academically overlooked role in the social and economic history of modern Europe and Spanish America for its use as an antidote to poisons, and the stones constituted one of the most sought-after objects for the fashionable cabinets of curiosities belonging to Europe's powerful elites. However, for indigenous pastoral peoples, bezoars were central to the reproduction of native cultural practices and directly linked to the foundational myths of Andean cosmology. The stones were believed to protect the herds and the shepherds, for whom the camelids represented the primary source of wealth. Consequently, the bezoar stone takes on unforeseen significance as a neglected site where the colonial drama of competing epistemologies was enacted.
From Marvelous Antidote to the Poison of Idolatry: The Transatlantic Role of Andean Bezoar Stones During the Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries
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Marcia Stephenson; From Marvelous Antidote to the Poison of Idolatry: The Transatlantic Role of Andean Bezoar Stones During the Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries. Hispanic American Historical Review 1 February 2010; 90 (1): 3–39. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00182168-2009-089
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