Development of Metallurgy in Eurasia

By Roberts, Benjamin W.; Thornton, Christopher P. et al. | Antiquity, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Development of Metallurgy in Eurasia


Roberts, Benjamin W., Thornton, Christopher P., Pigott, Vincent C., Antiquity


Introduction

Modern debates regarding the spread of metal use in Eurasia can be traced to the work of Theodore Wertime (1964, 1973), who argued that the expertise required to smelt metal was such that it could only have been discovered once, and to Colin Renfrew (1969), who proposed multiple independent centres of metallurgical invention. Whilst subsequent surveys highlighted the potentially deterministic role of regional geologies (Charles 1980), and the increased quantity of new data (Muhly 1988), they did not resolve the issue. In the 20 years since, there has been a flood of new data from fieldwork and laboratory projects, as well as far greater access to regions throughout Eurasia. These have been accompanied by new theoretical paradigms in archaeology that have challenged the purely technological perspectives of the debate and demonstrated how early metallurgy was shaped instead by cultural forces of the societies involved. The foundations of this new approach can be traced to the eminent materials scientist Cyril Stanley Smith (1981) who argued that the adoption of metallurgy derived not from some technical or economic necessity, but from aesthetics and specific socio-cultural desires. People did not need copper tools; they wanted copper tools. After all, the earliest metal objects were not necessarily superior to wood, bone, flint, obsidian or ceramics for performing everyday tasks, and these other materials continued to be used for thousands of years alongside metal tools.

Our aim is therefore not only to re-evaluate where and how early metallurgy occurred, but also to understand the broader processes underlying its transmission and earliest development. Within this there are several fundamental questions that we seek to address. Was metallurgy invented at a single place or invented independently in multiple locations throughout Eurasia? Is there significant variation when different metals are investigated and compared? What were the motivations for the invention and innovation of metallurgy and how did these occur throughout Eurasia?

We will show that metallurgy derived from the desire by the early agricultural and agro-pastoral communities in Southwest Asia (c. eleventh-ninth millennium BC) to adorn the human body in life and death using colourful ores and naturally-occurring metals. It is only in the subsequent millennia that the application of heat in a controlled reducing atmosphere led to the smelting of metallic ores to produce lead, copper, copper alloys, and eventually silver. The use of metals spread throughout Eurasia usually by the acquisition of metal objects as 'exotica' and often then by the movement of people possessing metallurgical expertise. However, the metals, production techniques and object forms used in each early region reflect local standards, implying a process of incorporation and innovation by the communities involved rather than a straightforward or inevitable adoption.

Metals, origins and chronologies

The development of metallurgy in Southwest Asia began long before the application of fire to naturally occurring metals. Indeed, the use of blue and green copper ores for beads, pendants and pigments was a critical step in the Neolithic, occurring at early agricultural and agro-pastoralist sites dating to the eleventh-ninth millennium BC (Figure 1a) at sites such as Shanidar Cave and Zawi Chemi in north-eastern Iraq, Hallan Cemi in eastern Turkey and Rosh Horesha in Israel (Yener 2000; Bar-Yosef Mayer & Porat 2008). The increased working of naturally-occurring or 'native' copper as well as copper and lead ores is demonstrated at sites such as Cayonu Tepesi in eastern Turkey, where metallographic analyses have shown evidence of annealing c. 8000 BC, indicating the early application of heat to the production process (Maddin et al. 1999). Native copper exploitation flourished in this core area through the seventh millennium BC while other metals, notably lead and (in the early sixth millennium BC) meteoritic iron, appear for the first time (Schoop 1999). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Development of Metallurgy in Eurasia
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.