Turkish Tin Mine Revises Bronze Age History

Article excerpt

By training their analytical tools on pottery fragments discovered in Turkey, scientists have pieced together a new picture of how Bronze Age people there obtained tin, a key raw material for making bronze.

Throughout the Near East, bronze artifacts from 4,500 years ago attest to the Importance of this valuable copper-and tin alloy to those cultures. In that region, archaeologists have unearthed many copper mines, with tons of waste ore, or slag, nearby.

"But we've known nothing about where the tin came from," says archaeologist Vincent C. Pigott of tile University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. A low records have pointed to mountains In Afghanistan as the nearest source and described tin as a key trade commodity, he adds.

In 1989. however, archaeologtist Aslihan Yener of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. D.C., discovered tin ore at Goltepe, located In mountains about 500 miles southeast of Ankara, Turkey. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal residue on pottery fragments and another dating technique Indicate that an ancient people extracted tin there around 2,500 B.C., says Smithsonian materials scientist Pamela Vandiver. She described the tin-extraction methods In San Francisco last week at the spring meeting of the Materials Research Society,

"It's not only the earliest, but it is also the only Bronze Age evidence to date of tin processing [In the Near East]," Pigott says.

At the Goltepe site, the Smithsonian researchers counted 250,000 grindstones near the mine's mouth. They also collected crucible fragments from remains of a walled compound with several pit houses, By studying the chemical condition of 24 pottery fragments brought back to the Smithsonian, Vandiver and her colleagues pieced together this ancient process. They used X-ray fluorescence to analyze the fragment surfaces and black, glassy drops stuck to the fragments.

Today, mining companies extract tin by smelting ore: When heated to about 1,350'C, the tin flows out of the ore and settles on the bottom of a furnace. …