July 24, 2012

Archaeometallurgy in the Mediterranean

Continuing a discussion on metallurgical innovation which I began here.

Some interesting excerpts from a book chapter:
Tin bronze first appeared in Mesopotamia and Anatolia during the third millennium B.C., or Early Bronze Age (Pare 2000a:6–7). In the Mediterranean,the transition from arsenical to tin bronze took place during the course of the Middle Bronze Age (late third to early second millennium B.C.in the eastern Mediter-ranean, somewhat later in the west). The implication (Renfrew 1972:313–319) that tin bronze was an independent development in the northeast Aegean is contradicted by lead isotope analyses which show that most copper or bronze objects from sites such as Troy, Poliochni, and Kastri were not produced from local ores (Muhly and Pernicka 1992; Pernicka 1998:140–141). Exactly what caused the transition from arsenical to tin bronze is not well understood: as an alloy, tin bronze is not mechanically superior to arsenical copper (Pernicka 1998:135–136).Unlike arsenic, moreover, tin is not widely available as a mineral, and new trade networks would have been required to enable its distribution. However, it may have been easier to control the quality of tin bronze, and the production of tin bronze would have overcome the problem of working with toxic arsenic fumes (Charles 1978:30;Pare 2000a:7).

Given the limited number of tin deposits in the region, the source(s) of tin usedin the prehistoric eastern Mediterranean has always been a highly controversial issue. The suggestion that Afghanistan served as a prime source of tin for Bronze Age eastern Mediterranean societies is based in part on the existence of its rich tin resources (Muhly and Pernicka 1992:315;Weeks 1999:60–61).Muhly (1999:21) recently argued that Afghanistan or central Asia provided the tin that supplied the bronze industries of Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and the eastern Mediterranean, including Cyprus. Cuneiform documents from the early second millennium B.C., moreover, point to a trade network that brought tin from the east to the early states of Anatolia and Mesopotamia (Maddin et al.1977:41:Weeks 1999),and thence to the Mediterranean. Weisgerber and Cierny (2002,with fuller references) now maintain that prehistoric tin mining (second millennium B.C.), attested at the sites of Karnab (Uzbekhistan) and Musciston (Tajikistan), provided an important source of tin for Anatolia and Mesopotamia, if not for the Mediterranean. In contrast, Yener and Vandiver (1993) have argued that (very limited) tin deposits in the Taurus Mountains of southern Turkey were exploited during the Early Bronze Age. Their argument has been challenged by several scholars (e.g.,Muhly 1993;Weisgerberand Chierny 2002:180–181;papers in Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 5[1995]) who maintain that the archaeological evidence is unclear,and far too limited to demonstrate anything beyond local use. Even if tin from the Taurus were mined during the Early Bronze Age, it now seems more likely that central Asia provided at least some of the tin used during the Middle-Late Bronze Ages,when tin bronze was far more widely produced, traded, and consumed in the Mediterranean. 
By the Late Neolithic period (ca.4800–3100 B.C.), most people living in the Mediterranean region produced their own food, lived the year round in sedentary communities and increasingly were involved in intricate social and economic exchanges. By the beginning of the Bronze Age, certain alliances, special-interest groups, or even individual local leaders came to control access to raw materials in demand: obsidian, precious or semi-precious stones, metals such as gold, silver, copper, and tin, and a range of more perishable goods. From about 3000 B.C.onward – corresponding to the Chalcolithic period (Argaric culture) in Spain, the Final Neolithic in Italy, and the Early Bronze Age in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean – the production and trade in metals increasingly became a key factor in promoting social change (Giardino 2000b;Knapp 1990a;Levy et al.2002;Manning 1994;Ruiz Taboada and Montero Ruiz 1999).  
Technological innovations may be seen as progressive by managers and elites, but for the people who mined ores or smelted metals they were also potentially disruptive, forming the backdrop for social change as well as social abuse (Heskel andLamberg-Karlovsky 1980:260–261;Stollner 2003:427–429). Miners and metal-smiths often use ideology as a means to maintain, resist,or change their power base within society. Because elites who control and organize metallurgical produc-tion often use material culture to restructure relations of power (Gamble 1986:39), we may also expect such transformations to be visible in the archaeological record. 
Consequently, there is little room to doubt that innovations in technology had deep-seated and long-lasting social and ecological effects, placing constraints as well as conferring benefits on Bronze Age mining and metallurgical production. In social terms, whereas the intensified production of copper employing an advanced technology did not preclude a strong sense of local community, such factors served to increase social distinctions between those at the top of the control structure and those at the bottom (Hardesty 1988:102,116;Knapp 1986b;2003). 
The trade in metals during the Chalcolithic period was carried out on a very limited scale, and most metals were certainly consumed in the same area where they were produced (cf.Gale 1991). During the Early Bronze Age (third millennium B.C.), technological innovations like the longboat and sail facilitated the bulk transport of raw materials or manufactured goods on a much larger scale than ever before (Broodbank 1989). 
Metals and metallurgy wielded an immense impact on Mediterranean Bronze Age societies, clearly evident in all the fundamental changes seen in the archaeological record from the end of the Chalcolithic period (Copper Age) onward. During the Bronze Age,innovations in maritime transport and the earliest cultivation of olives and vines stimulated the economy of the Mediterranean region and spurred some of its inhabitants to produce metals, take part in maritime trade, manufacture distinctive artifacts, and build domestic and public structures that represented the earliest towns and ceremonial complexes in the Mediterranean. The advent and spread of metallurgy promoted greater social distinctions,as certain individuals or groups acquired new wealth and prestige items. Because tin had to be imported in order to produce bronze, long-distance trade was stimulated. Duringthe second millennium B.C., gold, silver, copper, and tin came to represent what Sherratt (2000:83) has termed “convertible”value, both in an economic sense and in the literal sense that they could be consumed, stored, redistributed, or recycled in diverse forms and for various symbolic or ideological ends.Such documentary evidence as exists, exclusively in the eastern Mediterranean, is frequently preoccupied with these self-same metals (Liverani 1990:205–223,247–266;Moran,inKnapp 1996:21–25).

A remarkable series of social and economic changes thus were linked closely to all the innovative developments in extractive and metallurgical technologies,and tothe increasingly widespread and intensified production and distribution of metalsand metal objects. These changes include but are not limited to: (1) the proliferation of settlements and the emergence of town centers;(2) the development and expansion in interregional trade;(3) the growth of palatial regimes and city-state kingdoms,with their attendant writing systems (notably in the eastern Mediterranean);(4) the development and refinement of craft specialization and the spread of an iconographic koine;(5) the elaboration of mortuary rituals and burials with large quantities of precious metal goods;(6) the widespread occurrence of metal hoards and the related trade in recycled and scrap metal. The circulation of goods, ideas, and ideologies across geographic,cultural,and economic boundaries represents a social transaction,one that entangled producers, distributors, and consumers in wider relations of alliance and dependence, patronage and privilege, prestige and debt (Thomas 1991:123–124). Certain occupational identities came to be focused around metallurgical production and trade, and Cyprus even gave its name to the island’s most prominent product: copper ore (Muhly 1973:174–175).The coming of the Age of Iron, subsequent to all the developments discussed in this study, itself relied on extractive and smelting technologies developed during theBronze Age,together with the use of carburization, all of which are linked directly(albeit over the millennia) to the dramatic social and economic changes that ushered in the Industrial Revolution and the beginnings of the modern era.If it is indeed the case that “metals make the world go round” (Pare 2000b),nowhere can this slogan be better and more widely illustrated than in the prehistoric Bronze Age of the Mediterranean.

Archaeometallurgy in the Mediterranean: The Social Context of Mining, Technology, and Trade

Vasiliki Kassianidou and A.Bernard Knapp



Grey said...

I think all those dots in Sardinia and the ones along the Atlantic coast through Brittany, SW Britain and Southern Ireland may eventually prove to be related.


Mark D said...

Do we know when the maritime trade in tin from Spain, Brittany and Cornwall began? Did that trade to the eastern Med follow the Afghan/Asian trade or was it concurrent?

jackson_montgomery_devoni said...

It seems that there is a good chance now that haplogroup J2a (Y-DNA) may be linked to the spread of metalurgy during the Bronze Age out of West Asia. I wonder then if J2a men were among the first agricultural innovators or if they were secondary receivers of agriculture living in the highlands and then developed metalurgical skills after receiving agriculture from lowland peoples and then spreading out form the highlands with Bronze technology?

Grey said...

"Do we know when the maritime trade in tin from Spain, Brittany and Cornwall began?"

There may have been a gold, silver, and copper phase before that also.

mooreisbetter said...

I agree with Grey (first commenter). The materials I have just read on Copper/Bronze/Iron Age civilization indicated that there were two separate metalworking centers/societies, in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean.

The Western Mediterranean distribution in that map is STUNNINGLY similarbto the modern distribution of I-M26 aka 12a1a.

This site postulates a connection with M26 and Atlantic Seaboard / Western Med Megalithic cultures, but from looking at this map in this oost, it would appear there is a pretty crazy metals-trade angle there too.

I will try to find a good map that shows the [non-clinal, seaboard]distribution of M26, but wow is it similar to that map abive.

Anonymous said...

The steel for popular Damascus sword was imported from South India.

Importing raw material can not be done with out learning about the material first. The raw material might have traveled along with artisans and they might have cultivated the old know resources to continue their sales.

Afghanistan taking the raw material might have proceeded by artisans first. they might have carried forward the genetics also from East.