Follow by Email

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Prehistoric Metal Age and the Origins of Copper and Tin Smelting

The idea of hyper-diffusion is no longer popular among archaeologist when discussing the Neolithic, Chalcolithic, or Bronze Age.  However, most scholars still prescribe to the idea where Phase One (Oldowan and Madrasian) and Phase Two (Acheulian) Old Stone Age cultures are concerned. These Old Stone Age cultures are thought to have had their origin in Africa and to have spread from there to much of the Old World, though there are equally early dates for both of these lithic industries in India and Southwest Asia. Africa is seen as the origin point largely due to a lack of associated hominid fossil remains outside of the continent from this age, and because of the known presence of earlier hominids there.
The scholarly aversion to speaking of hyper-diffusion in contexts other than the Old Stone Age and Africa is understandable; during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries diffusionist ideas were used for nationalism, racism, fringe science, and plain old bad archaeology. Also, many diffusionist models which seemed to fit the archaeological record of the time failed to stand up new discoveries in the late 20th and 21st centuries, a chain of events that might make any respectable scholar a bit gun shy about diffusionist theories.
For instance, the upper Paleolithic was once thought to be mostly the brainchild of Europe, and to have spread from there via the Cro-Magnon people. This idea was used for eurocentric racism, and has long since been disproven; there were Advanced Stone Age cultures in Africa and Asia at least as early as the time of the so-called Cro-Magnons. Likewise, the advent of agriculture, once thought to have begun in the Fertile Crescent, quickly proved to have equal dates along the Tigres and Euphates, and later yielded even earlier dates in East Asia.
In the past 50-100 years,changing dates and locations for the earliest smelting and alloy production have spoiled many a textbook's diffusionist model for the spread of Chalcolithic and Bronze Age technologies.
Because of the resulting change in academic thought, many have turned instead to the idea of parallel thinking.

In the case of metalworking, this means that anatomically modern homo sapiens sapiens were almost completely uninterested in the craft for 170 to 190 thousand years. Then between about 11,000 and 10,000 years ago, people suddenly became interested in beating copper and other cold-malleable ores into beads and pendants in several unrelated regions in both the Old and New World.

The history of copper use is at least 11,000 years old, estimated to have begun in 9000 BC in the Middle East;
-"CSA – Discovery Guides, A Brief History of Copper". Retrieved 12 September 2008.

Copper was shaped via cold hammering into objects from very early dates (Archaic period in the Great Lakes region: 8000–1000 BCE). There is also evidence of actual mining of copper veins (Old Copper Complex), but disagreement exists as to the dates.
 -Martin, S.R. (1999). Wonderful Power: The Story of Ancient Copper Working in the Lake Superior Basin. Great Lakes Books Series. Wayne State University Press.

Metalworking was being carried out by the South Asian inhabitants of Mehrgarh between 7000–3300 BCE.
- Possehl, Gregory L. (1996). Mehrgarh in Oxford Companion to Archaeology, Brian Fagan (Ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507618-4

The oldest archaeological evidence of copper mining and working was the discovery of a copper pendant in northern Iraq from 8,700 BCE.
- Hesse, Rayner, W. (2007). Jewelrymaking through History: an Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 56. ISBN 0-313-33507-9.

Timna Valley contains evidence of copper mining 9,000 to 7,000 years ago.
-Chalcolithic, wikipedia

5th millennium BCE copper artifacts start to appear in East Asia, such as Jiangzhai and Hongshan culture, but those metal artifacts were not widely used.
-Chalcolithic, wikipedia

Around 7000 years ago, completely independently and without contact between one another, cultures in Europe, China, the Middle East, South Asia, began heat-extracting and smelting the copper they'd been mining for millenia.

The first evidence of (this) extractive metallurgy dates from the 5th and 6th millennium BC[6]and was found in the archaeological sites of Majdanpek, Yarmovac and Plocnik, all three in Serbia.
-  Miljana Radivojevic, Thilo Rehren, Ernst Pernicka, Dušan Šljivar, Michael Brauns, Dušan Boric, On the Origins of Extractive Metallurgy: New Evidence from Europe, Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 37, Issue 11, November 2010, Pages 2775-2787.

To date, the earliest evidence of copper smelting is found at the Belovode site, including a copper axe from 5500 BC belonging to the Vinca culture.
 -Neolithic Vinca was a metallurgical culture Stonepages from news sources November 2007

...there is also evidence of copper smelting in Tal-i-Iblis, southeastern Iran, which dates back to around the the 6th millenium B.C.
 REPORT ON THE FIRST IRANIAN PREHISTORIC SLAG WORKSHOP. C.P. Thornton and Th. Rehren, Iran , Vol. 45, (2007), pp. 315-318.

 Investment casting of copper was invented in 4500–4000 BC in Southeast Asia
"CSA – Discovery Guides, A Brief History of Copper". Retrieved 12 September 2008.

North Americans, though not smelting, began working copper at the same time with a possibly comparable or transitional technique.

The earliest substantiated and dated evidence of metalworking in the Americas was the processing of copper in Wisconsin, near Lake Michigan. Copper was hammered until brittle then heated so it could be worked some more. This technology is dated to about 4000–5000 BCE.
- Emory Dean Keoke; Kay Marie Porterfield (2002). Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World: 15,000 Years of Inventions and Innovations. Infobase Publishing. pp. 14–. ISBN 978-1-4381-0990-9. Retrieved 8 July 2012.

Some diffusion is allowed for the advent of the Bronze Age proper, shortly after 7000 years ago in Western Eurasia,  as there is evidence for trade between all of the aforementioned copper smelting cultures except China and North America previous to its inception. Arsenic bronze seems to precede true tin bronze everywhere save Serbia and Southeats Asia, hwere tin is not rare. But there are early sites for Bronze use in Africa and China with comparable dates that have no clear evidence of previous contact with copper or bronze making cultures.

Societies using arsenical bronze include the Akkadians, those of Ur, and the Amorites, all based around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and centres of the trade networks which spread arsenical bronze across the Middle East during the Bronze Age.
-De Ryck, I.; Adriens, A.; Adams, F. (2005). "An overview of Mesopotamian bronze metallurgy during the 3rd millennium BC" (PDF). Journal of Cultural Heritage 6 (6):

...isolated examples of copper-zinc alloys are known in China from as early as the 5th Millennium BC.
- Zhou Weirong (2001). "The Emergence and Development of Brass Smelting Techniques in China". Bulletin of the Metals Museum of the Japan Institute of Metals 34: 87–98.

Although arsenical bronze occurs in the archaeological record across the globe, the earliest artifacts so far known have been found on the Iranian plateau in the 5th millennium BCE.
-Thornton, C.P.; Lamberg-Karlovsky, C.C.; Liezers, M.; Young, S.M.M. (2002). "On pins and needles: tracing the evolution of copper-based alloying at Tepe Yahya, Iran, via ICP-MS analysis of Common-place items.". Journal of Archaeological Science. 29 If a great deal of oxygen is dissolved (29): 1451–1460. doi:10.1006/jasc.2002.0809.

Tin bronze was superior to arsenic bronze in that the alloying process could be more easily controlled, and the resulting alloy was stronger and easier to cast. Also, unlike arsenic, metallic tin and fumes from tin refining are not toxic. The earliest tin-alloy bronze dates to 4500 BCE in a Vinca culture site in Plocnik (Serbia).[9] Other early examples date to the late 4th millennium BC in Africa,[10] Susa (Iran) and some ancient sites in China, Luristan (Iran) and Mesopotamia (Iraq).
-Bronze, wikipedia

According to mainstream academia, unrelated people in several different parts of the world suddenly took an interst in metals within a few hundred years of one another, independently invented smelting within a few hundred years of one another, and then independently invented alloys (once again within a few hundred years of one another) via the power of "parallel thinking."
However, though little is given in the way of a cause or reason for this "parallel thinking," most of the same scholars who champion it would scoff at the idea of "psychic powers," "the universal mind," or Sheldrake's "Morphic Field." Rather, if they explain parallel thinking at all, they point to the Neolithic or Agricultural Revolution or the invention of fired pottery as a cause that necessarily leads to metalworking and metallurgy. There are big problems with this chain of reasoning, however.

The Neolithic is poorly defined, and though it is usually given a start date of 12,500 years ago in the Middle East, it too is thought to have started at widely different times in various places, as independently from one another as the following metal ages. Microliths and polished stone tools once defined the Neolithic, but at sites in East Asia and South Asia yield dates in excess of 20 thousand years. There are site in the Solomon Islands that might push the dawn of agriculture back to 26,000 B.C. or earlier. Fired pottery in China goes back 20,000 years, and may go back that far in Southeast Asia too, and yet metalworking seems to have no earlier start in those places than the Western Eurasia, when did not start making pottery until nearly 8000 years later.
No matter when agriculture, pottery, or the Neolithic began for these innovative cultures, they supposedly started working copper at about the same time. No matter when the first smelting cultures started farming, potting, or even working with copper, they all started smelting at roughly the same time. No matter when the first independent inventors of alloy began copper smelting, they all had the idea to add tin or arsenic to it at about the same time. And yet this is supposedly a case of parralel thinking and not diffusion. After at least 10 to 20 thousand years of having the proposed prerequisites to do begin metalworking, if not the whole of his 200 thousand year previous  existence, the idea to start heating up ores popped into the heads of separate people in separate cultures speaking separate languages who had no contact or connection with each other.

Some might say that the end of the Ice Age and changing climate sparked the need for metal working, but this position is hard to defend at best. Neanderthals actually worked gold 40,000 years ago in Spain. Ivory and shell jewelry has been in vogue since at least that time, used by Denisovan and Homo sapien sapiens as well.

Small amounts of natural gold have been found in Spanish caves used during the late Paleolithic period, c. 40,000 B.C.
 -"History of Gold". Gold Digest. Retrieved 2007-02-04.

From a purely logical and rational point of view, it would make more sense if homo sapien's love of metal working began in one place and then spread to the others, just like the aforementioned Phase 1 and Phase 2 lithic technologies. Unlike the Upper Plaeolithic, which is thought to have several "centers of diffusion," metal working is a specific action using a specific material that had never been used before.  Each center of Paleolithic innovation is responsible for an entirely different form of technology. For instance, Paleo-Europe is known for innovations such as the atlatl, clothes, and cave art, whereas Paleo-Africa is known for the mining of pigments, works in desert glass, and possibly the first bows, Paleo- South Asia is known for its microliths, and Paleo- South East Asia is known for deep sea fishing and agriculture, or at least horticulture. It may even be the synthesis of these various technologies as they spread and met in Eurasia that led to the neolithic itself.
Metalworking and metallurgy are a more specific interest, and if discovered independently should have been discovered at widely disparate dates by the separate centers over the past 20 thousand years. It is the coinciding independent dates that should give us a clue that things may not be exactly as they seem.
A more plausible explanation for the dawn of metal working, or at least metallurgy, as it has evolved into the present day would require a single point of origin that has either not yet discovered or is now under water and therefore currently undiscoverable. It just so happens that the most likely places have been under the sea since 11,000 years ago, precisely when metalworking is thought to have begun.

Silver, copper, tin and meteoric iron can also be found in native form, allowing a limited amount of metalworking in early cultures.
 -E. Photos, E. (2010). "The Question of Meteoritic versus Smelted Nickel-Rich Iron: Archaeological Evidence and Experimental Results" (PDF). World Archaeology 20 (3): 403.doi:10.1080/00438243.1989.9980081. JSTOR 124562.

It may be that the cold hammering of malleable metals is far older than 11,000 years, but trinkets more ancient than that have little to no chance of surviving into the present. Whether this be the case or not, it doesn't explain the independent and near-simulataneous decision and breakthrough that led to copper smelting in seperate parts of the world at nearly the same time.

Evidence for copper smelting appears during the sixth millennium BC in many locations from Serbia to China, but the earliest evidence dates from the 7th millennium BC in Anatolia. However, while knowledge of copper metallurgy in most of these places follows progress through four stages of production techniques, all of these stages appear at once in Anatolia at the very beginning of the neolithic, suggesting that the technology was brought to the copper source from a location or culture where these four techniques had already been developed.

The history of copper metallurgy is thought to follow this sequence: 1) cold working of native copper, 2) annealing, 3) smelting, and 4) the lost wax casting. In southeastern Anatolia, all four of these techniques appear more or less simultaneously at the beginning of the Neolithic c. 7500 B.C.
Renfrew, Colin (1990). Before civilization: the radiocarbon revolution and prehistoric Europe. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-013642-5. Retrieved21 December 2011.

The earlier date needed for such a mother culture coincides well with the spread of Y haplogroup T and the genes ASPM D and Microcephalin D, the latter of which is now present in 70,000 of people. It also coincides with the appearance of some of the earliest megaliths in Eurasia, as well as the timing of the spread of the Nusantao Maritime Culture to the coasts and river systems of Eurasia and Africa through the newly opened Straight of Malacca from South East Asia.

Other signs of early metals are found from the third millennium BC in places like Palmela (Portugal), Los Millares(Spain), and Stonehenge (United Kingdom). However, the ultimate beginnings cannot be clearly ascertained and new discoveries are both continuous and ongoing.

The Bronze Age in the ancient Near East began with the rise of Sumer in the 4th millennium BC. Cultures in the ancient Near East (often called, one of "the cradles of civilization") practiced intensive year-round agriculture, developed a writing system, invented the potter's wheel, created a centralized government, law codes, and empires, and introduced social stratification, slavery, and organized warfare. Societies in the region laid the foundations forastronomy and mathematics.
Bronze Age, Wikipedia

Arsenic bronze appears in Iran and China by the fifth millennium BC, but the first dates for true tin bronze appear around 4800 B.C. in Serbia. There are equal dates to this in Thailand, but those have been contested.

"Southeast Asian metallurgy has been a source of controversy since the early dating of metal technology in places like Ban Chiang and Non Nok Tha in Thailand.

Thermoluminescence dating of pottery associated with eight bronze bracelets discovered by N. Suthiragsa revealed dates between 5000 and 4500 BCE. Radiocarbon dating of separately excavated bronzes uncovered by C.F. Gorman and P. Charoenwongsa gave dates of about 3600 BCE.

Such early datings for bronze technology exceeded that found elsewhere in the world and caused much commotion when first revealed. Joyce White who worked on Gorman's sites after the latter's death, found that the early dates were not "archaeologically meaningful." Her "re-analysis" of the radiocarbon findings pushed the date forward to 2100 BCE, based on the explanation that the bronzes may have been 'cut down' to lower levels than their true age.

However, it must be said that prior to the startling early data, the excavators apparently saw no problem with the strata and approved tests. Also, White's reanalysis can only apply to the radiocarbon dates and not to the direct thermoluminescence findings."


The second oldest dates for true tin bronze come from Mesopotamia, where the bronze age seems to begin at that time in earnest, but there are dates within a century of these in both Europe and the Phillipines.

Recent discoveries at Balobok Rockshelter in the southern Philippines have unearthed early Neolithic tools dated to 5340 BCE and a bronze adze from a layer at 3190 BCE.

So Southeast Asia is either tied at first or second place for the world's earliest tin Bronze. Since Serbia and Southeast Asia are the only places in the world where tin and bronze appear in abundance withing the same caves and even veins, this should come as no surprise.

The only places on the planet where tin and copper occur together naturally are Turkey in the Middle East and Thailand in Southeast Asia, and in these two places a mistake led to the first bronze simultaneously around 4500 B.C.
-Breaking Away from the Textbook: Prehistory to 1600
By Ron H. Pahl

It would be almost impossible for a smelting culture to avoid making bronze while extracting copper in these places. Furthermore, it has long been a mystery as to where the Near East and Middle East obtained so much copper and tin to fuel their bronze age. Dr. Stephen Oppenheimer and Paul kekai manansala have both laid out convincing arguments for a Nusantao influence on these bronze making cultures, not least because of the fact that a trading network with a base in South East Asia would have ready access to tin;the largest vein in the world runs through China and through Malaysia to the sea, where there was dry land less than 9000 years ago. Nearby Sumatra has been known since prehistory as "the Isle of Gold," an ore also used in early alloys with tin, silver, and copper, some of which may predate the Bronze Age itself.
Unfortunately, Malaysia and Indonesia are among the least archaeologically explored countries in the world, despite their massive importance to the understanding of human history.

Eastern Asia has a number of small cassiterite deposits along the Yellow River which were exploited by the earliest Chinese Bronze Age culture of Erlitou and the Shang Dynasty (2500 to 1800 BCE). However, the richest deposits for the region, and indeed the world, lie inSoutheastern Asia, stretching from Yunnan in China to the Malay Peninsula. The deposits in Yunnan were not mined until around 700 BCE, but by the Han Dynasty had become the main source of tin in China according to historical texts of the Han, Jin, Tang, and Song dynasties (Murowchick 1991, pp. 76–77). Other cultures of Southeast Asia exploited the abundant cassiterite resources sometime between second and third millennia BCE, but due to the lack of archaeological work in the region little else is known about tin exploitation during ancient times in that part of the world.
-Tin sources and trade in ancient times, wikipedia

It may that there is no evidence for metalworking in Southeast Asia previous to the Bronze Age simply because advanced cultures there did not move into the highlands until around 4500 BC, when sea levels were temporarily about 5 meters higher than they are today, and all that remains in modern times are the highlands.

Short of dredging the seafloor and hoping that it hasn't all washed and eroded away, some researchers have pointed out circumstantial evidence from the Austronesian languages that hint towards an ancient knowledge of metallurgy in Southeast Asia:

"Probably even more controversial than the archaeological evidence is the suggestion by Robert Blust in 1976 that Proto-Austronesiansdating from the period 5000 to 3000 BCE had a "knowledge of iron."

He states "the probability is small that a collection of unrelated bypotheses will provide a more plausible explanation of these facts than the single hypothesis that iron was known and worked at an early date, perhaps as early as Proto-Austronesian times." Although Blust in 1999 notes that words for metal do not necessarily require knowledge of metallurgy, we cannot dismiss the idea simply due to the negative archaeological evidence.

Iron was reconstructed as *bariS and further reconstructions were given for words such as "blacksmithing" and "anvil," the latter two terms restricted to Western Malayo-Polynesian. Using Solheim's chronology at least, this could fit well with the evidence of bronze at Balobok by 3190 BCE.

Although the Mundaic languages come from the root branches all the Austro Asiatic tree, they still share cognates (words of the same origin) connected with rice growing with the Mon-Kmer branch of the Austro Asiatic tongues in indochina. Such words include husked rice, bamboo and bamboo shoots,  pestle and mortar, cow and chicken and, most intriguing, copper bronze. Charles Higham has suggested that the ancestors all these austroasiatic of these Austro-Asiatic Mundaic-speaking people, "who grew rice and knew of metallurgy, may well have expanded in a Westerly Direction from the austro Asiatic heartland Inn southeast Asia (to India) dMV prehistoric past."
-Oppenheimer, Eden in the East

Recent controversial discoveries at the site of Gunung Padang on the Island of Java, however, may push the dawn of metalworking and metallurgy in SouthEast Asia, as well as the entire planet, by several millenia:

"The Geologist team and also the center coaches of Indonesian Association of Geologists center, DR. Andang Bachtiar, find more surprising facts. The Cement material has a primary composition of 45% of iron mineral and 41% of mineral silica. The rest is 14% clay minerals and there is also the carbon element. "This is a good composition for strong cement adhesive, perhaps combining between the concepts of resin or modern strong adhesive made from silica materials and the use of concentration of the iron element which become as brick amplifiers," said Danny H. Natawidjaja.
The high content of silica indicates that the cement is not the result of weathering of colum andesite rocks which is surrounded by a poor of silica. Then, the levels of iron in nature, even in the rocks at the ore mineral mining, generally the content of iron is not more than 5%, so iron levels in "Gunung Padang cement" is many times higher than natural conditions. Therefore it can be concluded that material which is lied between the columns andesite stones are man-made grout.
So the technology of that time seems to have known metallurgy. One common technique to obtain a high concentration of iron is to carry out the combustion process from the broken rocks with very high temperatures. Similar to the making of bricks, which burn caolinite and illite clays to produce a high concentration of iron on the brick, explain Andang.
Indications of ancient metallurgical technology is more strengthened by the findings of a lump of metal materials sized 10 inches by the team of Ali Akbar at the depth of 1 meter on the eastern slopes of Mount Padang. The rusty metal material possessed a rough surface hollow-small cavity on the surface. Presumably this material is a metal dough residue ("slug") that is mixed with carbon material which has become its combustor materials, can be from wood, coal or other. Cavities are likely to occur due to the release of CO2 when burning. The team will conduct further laboratorium analysis to investigate.
The results of radiometric analysis of the content of the carbon element in some samples of cement in drill core from the depth of 5-15 meters which was conducted in 2012 at the prestigious Laboratory, BETALAB, Miami, USA in the mid-2012 shows its age with a range between 13,000 and 23,000 years ago.
Previously, the results of carbon dating which carried out in the BATAN laboratory, the dominant quartz sand that fills the voids between the columns of andesite at the depth of 8-10 meters below the terrace of five also showed the same age range is about 13,000 years ago."

-Danny Hilman Natawidjaja, leader of the Gunung Padang excavation team

Joe Lyon Layden is a prehistoric fiction author and primitive musician. To receive a free copy of this entire novella "The Man from Parkho Khatune Bears Favor," as well as three free songs and monthly updates, freebies, and discounts on Joe's ongoing work, please sign up for the newsletter below.

Sign Up Now


No comments: