Art: The Sun-Colored Metal

To the sun-worshiping Indians of the Americas before Columbus, gold was not so much precious as sacred. The Incas of Peru used it freely in wall coverings, in breastplates, in artificial flowers, in provision for tombs—never thinking of it as rare, always stressing the religious emotion they felt from gold's sunlike luster.

To the avaricious Spaniards, gold was simply rare and therefore of monetary value; when a nation had enough, it became rich. The Indians were astonished at this attitude, and surmised that the white men had some physical disease that could only be...

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