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Oxhide Copper Ingots in Crete and Cyprus and the Bronze Age Metals Trade

  • N. H. Gale and Z. A. Stos-Gale


Lead isotope and neutron activation analyses of second millennium BC copper ingots are described. Examples from Cyprus, from the Mathiati hoard, and from Skouriotissa are consistent, and show similarities with Late Cypriot bronze artefacts from Hala Sultan Teke and Ayios Dhimitrios. Analysis of the Hagia Triada ingots shows that these Cretan examples were not imports from Cyprus. The possibility that they used Cretan ores is discussed and rejected. It is tentatively suggested they may be of Anatolian origin. It is clear that the Late Bronze Age metal trade was organized on a more complex basis than was previously assumed to be the case.



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Acknowledgements. We are very grateful to Professor Y. Sakellarakis both for allowing us to take samples from the Hagia Triadha ingots and for his generous assistance and advice. We wish to thank A. Fountoulakis for his valuable assistance in sampling the ingots and Dr H. W. Catling and other members of the British School at Athens for their continued support for and assistance with our work in Greece. This work was supported by grants from the Science and Engineering Research Council, NATO (Grant No. 574/83), and the Leverhulme Trust.

1 Principally Buchholz, H. G., PZ 37 (1959) 140 and Schweizer Munzblätter 16 (1966) 62: Bass, G. F., Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 57 (8) (1967) and in Orient and Occident: Festschrift Cyrus H. Gordon (Kevelaer 1973) 29–38.

2 The scientific work on oxhide ingots has chiefly been conducted by R. Maddin, J. D. Muhly, R. F. Tylecote, and U. Zwicker. A complete list of the relevant publications is encompassed in the publications: Muhly, J. D., Acts of the International Archaeological SymposiumThe Relations Between Cyprus and Crete, ca.2000–500 B.C.’ (Nicosia 1979) 87100 and in Early Metallurgy in Cyprus (Nicosia 1982) 251–69.

3 See Buchholz, op. cit. and Bass, op. cit. (n. 1 above).

4 Lo Schiavo, F., Rend. Linc. xxxv, fasc. 5–6 (1980) 379–88.

5 Dimitriov, B., Int. J. Nautical Archaeology 8 (1979) 70–9.

6 See the discussion by Bass (1967), op. cit (n. 1 above).

7 Bass, op. cit (1967) (see n. 1 above).

8 Bass, G. F., Frey, D. A., and Pulak, C., Int. J. Nautical Archaeology 13 (4) (1984) 271–9.

9 Bass, op. cit. (1967), (see n. 1 above).

10 Seltman, C., Greek Coins (London 1955) 5 ff.; Kyrou, A. K., Nomismatika Chronika 1 (1972) 6475.

11 See Buchholz, op. cit. (1959) and Bass, op. cit. (1967) (n. 1 above) for discussions of the variations in both shape and weight.

12 See Bass, op. cit. (1967) (n. 1 above).

13 Kempinski, A. and Košak, S., Tel Aviv 4 (1977) 8793.

14 Catling, H. W., Cypriot Bronzework in the Mycenaean World (Oxford 1964).

15 Karageorghis, V. and Dernas, M., Pyla-Kokkinokremos (Nicosia 1984).

16 A. South-Todd, Report of the Department of Antiquities Cyprus (1983).

17 Betancourt, P., Wheeler, T. S., Maddin, R., and Muhly, J. D., MASCA Journal 1 (1978) 78.

18 Hood, S., Excavations in Chios (Oxford 1982) 665.

19 Caskey, J., Hesperia XL (1971) 388 pl. 75a.

20 Lo Schiavo, op. cit. (see n. 4 above).

21 One from Kourion, now in the British Museum, is described by Catling, op. cit. p. 205 pl. 34 (see n. 14 above); the other was published by Tushingham, A. D., Archaeology 32 (4) (1979) 53–5.

22 Schaeffer, C. F. A., Antiquity 39 (1965) 56, pl. xvib, and Alasia i (Paris 1971) 505 ff.

23 Catling, , Alasia i (Paris 1971) 1532. The statuette is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

24 Karageorghis, V., Cyprus (London 1982) 103–4.

25 Bass, op. cit. (1967 and 1973) (see n. 1 above).

26 Karageorghis, op. cit. (1982) 104 (see n. 24 above).

27 The signs impressed or incised into many oxhide ingots have been compared with Cypro-Minoan, Linear A and Linear B, but Bass (1967, op. cit. in n. 1 above) has shown that no group of signs is uniquely related to any one of them. The signs cannot therefore be used to support a Cypriot origin for particular ingots.

28 The case for the equation Alashiya = Cyprus has recently been forcibly argued by Muhly, J. D., Proceedings First International Congress of Cypriot Studies i (Nicosia 1972) 201–10; the case against the equation was ably argued by R. S. Merrillees, ibid. 111–19.

29 Astrom, P., SCE iv (iD), 709–54 and in Acts of the International Archaeological Symposium: The Relations Between Cyprus and Crete circa 2000–500 B.C. (Nicosia 1979) 122–7.

30 e.g. Enkomi, Hala Sultan Tekke, and Kition.

31 Tin, which was unavailable anywhere within the Aegean, seems an equally possible source of Western interest in Cyprus, which may have acted as a middleman for supplies coming from much further east, perhaps through Mari. See Gale, N. H. and Stos-Gale, Z. A., Report of the Department of Antiquities Cyprus (1985) 8399.

32 Muhly, op. cit. (1979) (see n. 2 above) 94.

33 Catling, , Cyprus and the West 1600–1050 B.C. Ian Sanders Memorial Lecture (Sheffield 1980).

34 Ibid. 17–19.

35 Id., in Acts of the International Archaeological Symposium: The Relations between Cyprus and Crete, circa 2000–500 B.C. (Nicosia 1979) 69–75.

36 See, for instance, Bass, op. cit. (1967) 62–7 (n. 1 above), and Sakellarakis, E. and Sakellarakis, Y., Skrifter Utgivna av Svenska Institutet i Athen 4° xxxii (1984) 197203.

37 For the typological classification of oxhide ingots, see Buchholz, op. cit. (1959), and Bass, op. cit. (1967) (n. 1 above).

38 Catling, , CAH 3 II/2 (Cambridge 1979) 188216.

39 Faure, P., RAI (1966) 4578 and in Proceedings Second International Congress of Cretan Studies, ii (Athens 1968) 174–83.

40 Merrillees, , Trade and Transcendence in the Bronze Age Levant, SIMA xxxix (Göteborg 1974) 7.

41 Platon, N., Acts of the International Archaeological Symposium: The Relations Between Cyprus and Crete ca. 2000–500 B.C. (Nicosia 1979). 101–10.

42 Vermeule, E. and Wolsky, F., Proc. Amer. Phil. Soc. 122 (1978) 294317 and Toumba tou Skourou: The Mound of Darkness (Harvard 1974).

43 Pecorella, P. E.Le Tombe dell'Età del Bronzo Tardo della Necropoli a Mare di Ayia IriniPaleokastro’ (Rome 1977).

44 Catling, op. cit. 4–8 (see n. 33 above), but later in the same article he inclines to the view that the LM IA pottery found at Toumba tou Skourou may reflect the presence there of refugees from Thera, and may have nothing to do with the copper trade.

45 Platon, op. cit. pl. ix. 2, (see n. 41 above).

46 Lagarce, J., Lagarce, E., Bounni, A., and Saliby, N., C. Rend. Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (1983) 249–90.

47 In Buchholz, H. G. and Karageorghis, V., Altägäis and Altkypros (Tübingen 1971) 59.

48 Balmuth, M. S. and Tylecote, R. F., J. Field Archaeology 3 (1976) 195201; Zwicker, U., Virdis, P., and Ceruti, M. L., in British Museum Occasional Paper 20 (1980) 135–55.

49 Muhly, J. D., Maddin, R., and Wheeler, T. S., Report of the Department of Antiquity (Cyprus 1980) 8495.

50 Wheeler, , Maddin, , and Muhly, , Expedition 17 (1975) no. 4, 31–9.

51 Muhly, , Wheeler, , and Maddin, , J. Field Archaeology 4 (1977) 353–62.

52 For instance, in Muhly, Wheeler, and Maddin, op. cit. (1977) 355–6, (see n. 51 above), and in Muhly, op. cit. (1979) (see n. 2 above) 94.

53 Muhly, Maddin, and Wheeler, op. cit. (1980) 94 (see n. 49 above).

54 One of the Cape Gelidonya oxhide ingot fragments contained 10 per cent of iron; see Maddin, R. and Muhly, J. D., J. Metals 26 no. 5 (1974) 17. The oxhide ingot fragment found in Hattusa has now also proved, from measurements made in Oxford and Erlangen, to contain a large amount of iron.

55 Maddin and Muhly, op. cit. 4 6 (see n. 54 above).

56 Muhly, Wheeler, and Maddin, op. cit. (1977) 359 (see n. 51 above).

57 Muhly, op. cit. (1979) 94 (see n. 2 above).

58 Id., op. cit. (1982) 255 (see n. 2 above).

60 For neutron activation analyses of trace elements in ancient copper, see, e.g. Gilmore, G. R., J. Radioanalytical Chemistry 39 (1977) 113–20, and Gilmore, G. R. and Ottaway, B. S., J. Archaeological Science 7 (1980) 241–54.

61 Gale, and Stos-Gale, , Science 216 (1982) 1119, see also Branigan, K., Nature 296 (1982) 701–2.

62 See, e.g., Brill, R. H. and Wampler, J. M., AJA 71 (1967) 6377; Gale, , in Thera and the Aegean World i (1978) 529–45.

63 Gale and Stos-Gale, op. cit (1982) (see n. 61 above) and in Report of the Department of Antiquities Cyprus (1985) 83–99.

64 Tin or arsenic minerals, from an ore source different from the copper-ore source used to produce the copper metal, may rarely carry with them sufficient ‘foreign’ lead to disturb the signature of the lead characteristic of the copper-ore deposit, though in practice much ancient arsenical copper was probably an accidental product of the smelting of arsenical copper ores.

65 It was for this very reason, that ‘a single ingot was probably made from the ores of a single mine’, that the Philadelphia group chose to focus their archaeometallurgical studies on oxhide ingots. See Wheeler, Maddin and Muhly, op. cit. 32 (see n. 50 above).

66 Constantinou, G., in Early Metallurgy in Cyprus (Nicosia 1982) 14–7 fig. 2.

67 Commonly the ratios 208Pb/206Pb and 207Pb/206Pb vary less than ±0·3 per cent throughout an ore body; sometimes the variation is much less.

68 A more certain attribution, in the case of overlapping lead isotope ore fields, ideally requires field-work to determine whether the copper deposits were anciently worked, the age of mining, etc.

69 Gale, N. H., Stos-Gale, Z. A., and Zwicker, U., Report of the Department of Antiquity (Cyprus 1986) (in press).

70 Three isotope ratios can be formed from the isotopic abundances of the four naturally occurring isotopes of lead; these ratios can be combined in pairs to give the two diagrams customarily used in plotting graphically the measured lead isotope compositions.

71 The Mathiati Hoard, and the eleven oxhide ingot fragments which form part of it, have been published in Catling, op. cit. 268, pl. 49g (see n. 14 above).

72 Bear, L. M., The Mineral Resources and Mining Industry of Cyprus (Nicosia 1963) 36; Constantinou, , in Early Metallurgy in Cyprus (Nicosia 1982) 20.

73 The analyses are reported by Gale, Stos-Gale, and Zwicker, op. cit. (see n. 69 above).

74 Tylecote, R. F., Ghaznavi, H. A., and Boydell, P. J., J. Archaeological Science 4 (1977) 305–7.

75 Paribeni, R., Rend. Linc. 12 (1903) 334–5; Carratelli, P., MA 40, 434, 455–8; Halbherr, F., Stefani, E., and Banti, L., Ann. 55 (1977) 123–4.

76 Full analyses of all sixteen ingots, including metallographic and electron microprobe analyses, are in progress and will be reported in due course.

77 See de Jesus, P., BAR International Series 74 (i) (1980) 21–2, 55, 109, 121, 147, 148; for the geology, see Griffitts, W. R., Albers, J. P., and Oner, O., Economic Geology 115 (1972) 701–16.

78 Cumming, G. L. and Richards, J. R., Earth and Planetary Science Letters xxviii (1975) 155–71.

79 Op. cit. (see n. 77 above).

80 Desmet, A., Lapierre, H., Rocci, G., Cagny, C., Parrot, J. F., and Delaloye, M., Nature 273 (1978) 527–30.

81 The ingot with a patch bearing a sign, Ingot 726B according to Buchholz, op. cit. (1959) (see n. 1 above), who illustrates it on p. 33 pl. 4.3.

82 See Creutzberg, N., Geological Map of Crete, IGME (Athens 1977).

83 Op. cit. (see n. 39 above).

84 Branigan, , BSA 70 (1975) 18; BSA 72 (1977) 66; Studi Micenei ed Egeo-Anatolici 13 (1971) 10–14; Aegean Metallurgy in the Early and Middle Bronze Age (Oxford 1974).

85 Op. cit. (see n. 50 above) 32.

86 Op. cit. (see nn. 49, 50 above).

87 Gale, N. H., Stos-Gale, Z. A., and Gilmore, G. R., Anatolian Studies (1985) 143–73, and Pernicka, E., Seeliger, T. C., Wagner, G. A., Begemann, F., Schmitt-Strecker, S., Eibner, C., Oztunali, O., and Baranyi, I., Jb DR-GZ (1984) 533–99.

88 See Gale, Stos-Gale, and Gilmore, op. cit. (n. 87 above).

89 Bass, op. cit. (see n. 1 above).

90 Catling, op. cit. (see n. 33 above).

91 Branigan, , in Early Metallurgy in Cyprus (Nicosia 1982) 203–12.

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Oxhide Copper Ingots in Crete and Cyprus and the Bronze Age Metals Trade

  • N. H. Gale and Z. A. Stos-Gale


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