Humble Brass Was Even Better Than Gold to a 16th-Century Tribe in Cuba

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Because of its otherworldly brilliance, the 16th-century Taíno Indians of Cuba called it turey, their word for the most luminous part of the sky.

They adored its sweet smell, its reddish hue, its exotic origins and its dazzling iridescence, qualities that elevated it to the category of sacred materials known as guanín. Local chieftains wore it in pendants and medallions to show their wealth, influence and connection to the supernatural realm. Elite women and children were buried with it.

What was this treasured stuff? Humble brass — specifically, the lace tags and fasteners from Spanish explorers’ shoes and clothes, for which the Taíno eagerly traded their local gold.

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