Skip to main content Accessibility help

Tainted ores and the rise of tin bronzes in Eurasia, c. 6500 years ago

  • Miljana Radivojević (a1) (a2), Thilo Rehren (a3), Julka Kuzmanović-Cvetković (a4), Marija Jovanović (a5) and J. Peter Northover (a6)...


The earliest tin bronze artefacts in Eurasia are generally believed to have appeared in the Near East in the early third millennium BC. Here we present tin bronze artefacts that occur far from the Near East, and in a significantly earlier period. Excavations at Pločnik, a Vinča culture site in Serbia, recovered a piece of tin bronze foil from an occupation layer dated to the mid fifth millennium BC. The discovery prompted a reassessment of 14 insufficiently contextualised early tin bronze artefacts from the Balkans. They too were found to derive from the smelting of copper-tin ores. These tin bronzes extend the record of bronze making by c. 1500 years, and challenge the conventional narrative of Eurasian metallurgical development.

    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Tainted ores and the rise of tin bronzes in Eurasia, c. 6500 years ago
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Tainted ores and the rise of tin bronzes in Eurasia, c. 6500 years ago
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Tainted ores and the rise of tin bronzes in Eurasia, c. 6500 years ago
      Available formats


The online version of this article is published within an Open Access environment subject to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution licence ;.


Hide All
Anthony, D.W. 2007. The horse, the wheel, and language: how Bronze-Age riders from the Eurasian steppes shaped the modern world. Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press.
Bar-Yosef Mayer, D.E. & Porat, N.. 2008. Green stone beads at the dawn of agriculture. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 105:8548-51.
Begemann, F., Schmitt-Strecker, S. & Pernicka, E.. 2003. On the composition and provenance of metal finds from Bes¸iktepe (Troia), in Wagner, A., Pernicka, E. & Uerpmann, H.-P. (ed.) Troia and the Troad: scientific approaches: 173201. Berlin: Springer.
Borić, D. 2009. Absolute dating of metallurgical innovations in the Vinˇca culture of the Balkans, in Kienlin, T.L. & Roberts, B.W. (ed.) Metals and societies. Studies in honour of Barbara S. Ottaway: 191245. Bonn: Dr. Rudolf Habelt.
Caron, R.N., Barth, R.G. & Tyler, D.E.. 2004. Metallography and microstructures of copper and its alloys, in Voort, G. F. Vander (ed.) Metallography and microstructures: 775-88. Cleveland (OH): ASM International.
Charles, J.A. 1978. The development of the usage of tin and tin-bronze: some problems, in Franklin, A.D., Olin, J.S. & Wertime, T.A. (ed.) The search for ancient tin: 2532. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Chernykh, E.N. 1978. Gornoe Delo i Metallurgiya v Drevneishei Bolgarii. Sofia: Bulgarian Academy of Sciences Press.
Cleziou, S. & Berthoud, T.. 1982. Early tin in the Near East: a reassessment in the light of new evidence from Afghanistan. Expedition 25:1419.
Craddock, P.T. & Meeks, N.D.. 1987. Iron in ancient copper. Archaeometry 29:187204.
Ehrhardt, K. 2009. Copper working technologies, contexts of use, and social complexity in the Eastern Woodlands of Native North America. Journal of World Prehistory 22:213-35.
Giumlia-Mair, A. & Loschiavo, F. (ed.). 2003. The problem of early tin (British Archaeological Reports international series 1199). Oxford: Archaeopress.
Glumac, P. & Todd, J.. 1987. New evidence for the use of lead in prehistoric south-east Europe. Archeomaterials 2:123-45.
Glumac, P. 1991. Early metallurgy in southeast Europe: the evidence for production, in Glumac, P. (ed.) Recent trends in archaeometallurgical research: 919. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania.
Govedarica, B., Pernicka, E. & Rottershofer, K.F.. 1995. Neue Metallanalysen aus dem Westbalkangebiet, in Petrović;, P. & ĐUrEkanović, S. (ed.) Ancient mining and metallurgy in southeast Europe: 265-79. Belgrade: Archaeological Institute Belgrade; Bor: Museum of Mining and Metallurgy Bor.
Hamilton, E. 1991. Metallurgical analyses and the Bronze Age of Bohemia: or, are cultural alloys real? Archeomaterials 5:7589.
Harding, A.F. 2000. European societies in the Bronze Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Helwing, B. 2009. Rethinking the Tin Mountains: patterns of usage and circulation of tin in greater Iran from the 4th to the 1st millennium BC. T¨urkiye Bilimer Akademisi Arkeoloji Dergisi 12:209-21.
Henrich, J. 2004. Demography and cultural evolution: how adaptive cultural processes can produce maladaptive losses, the Tasmanian case. American Antiquity 69:197214.
Higham, T., Chapman, J., Gaydarksa, B., Slavchev, V., Honch, N., Yordanov, Y. & Dimitrova, B.. 2007. New perspectives on the Varna cemetery (Bulgaria)—AMS dates and social implications. Antiquity 81:640-54.
Hosler, D. 1994. The sounds and colors of power. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.
Janković, S. 1997. The Carpatho-Balkanides and adjacent area. Mineralium Deposita 32:426-33.
Kaniuth, K. 2007. The metallurgy of the Late Bronze Age Sapalli culture (southern Uzbekistan) and its implications for the ‘tin question’. Iranica Antiqua 42:2340.
Kuz'Mina, E.E. 2008. The prehistory of the Silk Road. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Lechtman, H. 1977. Style in technology—some early thoughts, in Lechtman, H. & Merrill, R.S. (ed.) Material culture: styles, organization and dynamics in technology: 320. St Paul (MN): West.
Lechtman, H. 1980. The central Andes: metallurgy without iron, in Wertime, T.A. & Muhly, J.D. (ed.) The coming of the age of iron: 267334. New Haven (CT): Yale University Press.
Lechtman, H. 1996. Arsenic bronze: dirty copper or chosen alloy? A view from the Americas. Journal of Field Archaeology 23:477514.
Makkay, J. 1991. The most ancient gold and silver in central and south-east Europe, in Mohen, J.-P. & ÉLuèRe, C. (ed.) D´ecouverte du m´etal: 119-28. Paris: Picard.
Merkl, M.B. 2010. Bell Beaker metallurgy and the emergence of fahlore-copper use in Central Europe. Interdisciplinaria Archaeologica 1:1927.
Muhly, J.D. 1973. Copper and tin. New Haven: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Muhly, J.D. 1993. Early Bronze Age tin and the Taurus. American Journal of Archaeology 97:239-53.
Muhly, J.D. 2002. Early metallurgy in Greece and Cyprus, in YalçIn, Ü. (ed.) Anatolian metal II: 7782. Bochum: Deutsches Bergbau-Museum.
Nezafati, N., Pernicka, E. & Momenzadeh, M.. 2006. Ancient tin: old question and a new answer. Antiquity 80. Available at: (accessed 5 June 2013).
Nezafati, N., Pernicka, E. & Momenzadeh, M. 2011. Early tin-copper ore from Iran, a possible clue for the enigma of Bronze Age tin, in YalçIn, Ü. (ed.) Anatolian metal V: 211-30. Bochum: Deutsches Bergbau-Museum.
Northover, J.P. 1989. Properties and use of arsenic-copper alloys, in Hauptmann, A., Pernicka, E. & Wagner, G.A. (ed.) Old World archaeometallurgy: 111-18. Bochum: Deutsches Bergbau-Museum.
Ottaway, B.S. 1979. Analysis of the earliest metal finds from Gomolava. Rad Vojvod−anskih Muzeja (Novi Sad) 25:5359.
Otto, H. & Witter, W.. 1952. Handbuch der ¨altesten vorgeschichtlichen Metallurgie in Mitteleuropa. Leipzig: J.A. Barth.
Pare, C. 2000. Bronze and the Bronze Age, in Pare, C. (ed.) Metals make the world go round: 138. Oxford: Oxbow.
Pernicka, E., Begemann, F. & Schmitt-Strecker, S.. 1993. Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age copper artefacts from the Balkans and their relation to Serbian copper ores. Pr¨ahistorische Zeitschrift 68:154.
Pernicka, E., Begemann, F., Schmitt-Strecker, S., Todorova, H. & Kuleff, I.. 1997. Prehistoric copper in Bulgaria. Its composition and provenance. Eurasia Antiqua 3:41180.
Pigott, V.C. 1999. The development of metal production on the Iranian Plateau: an archaeometallurgical perspective, in Pigott, V. C. (ed.) The archaeometallurgy of the Asian world: 73106. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Pigott, V.C. 2011. Sources of tin and the tin trade in southwest Asia: recent research and its relevance to current understanding, in Betancourt, P.P. & Ferrence, S.C. (ed.) Metallurgy: understanding how, learning why. Studies in honor of James D. Muhly: 273-91. Philadelphia (PA): INSTAP Academic Press.
Powell, A., Shennan, S. & Thomas, M.G.. 2009. Late Pleistocene demography and the appearance of modern human behavior. Science 324:1298-301.
Radivojević, M., Rehren, Th., Pernicka, E., ŠLjivar, D., Brauns, M. & Borić, D.. 2010. On the origins of extractive metallurgy: new evidence from Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science 37:2775-87.
Ramdohr, P. 1980. The ore minerals and their intergrowths. Oxford: Pergamon.
Renfrew, C. 1986. Varna and the emergence of wealth in prehistoric Europe, in Appadurai, A. (ed.) The social life of things: commodities in a cultural perspective: 141-68. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Roberts, B.W., Thornton, C.P. & Pigott, V.C.. 2009. Development of metallurgy in Eurasia. Antiquity 83:1012-22.
Rostoker, W. & Dvorak, J.R.. 1990. Interpretation of metallographic structures. San Diego (CA): Academic Press.
Rovira, S. & Montero, I.. 2003. Natural tin-bronze alloy in Iberian Peninsula metallurgy: potentiality and reality, in Giumlia-Mair, A. & Loschiavo, F. (ed.) The problem of early tin (British Archaeological Reports international series 1199): 1522. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Ryndina, N., Indenbaum, G. & Kolosova, V.. 1999. Copper production from polymetallic sulphide ores in the northeastern Balkan Eneolithic culture. Journal of Archaeological Science 26:1059-68.
Schickler, H. 1981. ‘Neolithische’ Zinnbronzen, in Lorenz, H. (ed.) Studien zur Bronzezeit: Festschrift f¨ur Wilhelm Albert v. Brunn: 419-45. Mainz am Rhein: von Zabern.
Scott, D.A. 1991. Metallography and microstructure of ancient and historic metals. Marina del Rey (CA): Getty Conservation Institute.
ŠLjivar, D. & Kuzmanović-Cvetković, J.. 2009. Ploˇcnik, archaeology and conservation. Diana (Belgrade) 13:5661.
ŠLjivar, D., Kuzmanović-Cvetković, J. & ŽIvković, J.. 2012. Belovode, Ploˇ cnik: on copper metallurgy in the Vinˇca culture. Zbornik Narodnog Muzeja (Belgrade) 20:2746.
Smith, C.S. 1981. On art, invention and technology, in Smith, C.S. (ed.) A search for structure: 325-31. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.
Stech, T. & Pigott, V.C.. 1986. The metals trade in southwest Asia in the third millennium BC. Iraq 48:3964.
StöLlner, T., Samaschev, Z., Berdenov, S., Cierny, J., Doll, M., Garner, J., Gontscharov, A., Gorelik, A., Hauptmann, A., Rainer, H., Kusch, G.A., Merz, V., Riese, T., Sikorski, B. & Zickgraf, B.. 2011. Tin from Kazakhstan—steppe tin for the West? in YalçIn, U. (ed.) Anatolian metal V: 231-51. Bochum: Deutsches Bergbau-Museum.
Tasić, N. 1982. Naselje bakarnog doba u istoˇcnoj Srbiji. Zbornik radova Muzeja rudarstva i metalurgije u Boru (Serbia) 2:1936.
Thornton, C.P. 2007. Of brass and bronze in prehistoric southwest Asia, in Niece, S. La, Hook, D. & Craddock, P. (ed.) Metals and mines: studies in archaeometallurgy: 123-35. London: Archetype.
Thornton, C.P. 2009. The emergence of complex metallurgy on the Iranian Plateau: escaping the Levantine paradigm. Journal of World Prehistory 22:301-27.
Todorova, H. 1995. The Neolithic, Eneolithic and Transitional period in Bulgarian prehistory, in Bailey, D.W., Panayotov, I. & Alexandrov, S. (ed.) Prehistoric Bulgaria: 7998. Madison (WI): Prehistory Press.
Weeks, L. 1999. Lead isotope analyses from Tell Abraq, United Arab Emirates: new data regarding the ‘tin problem’ in Western Asia. Antiquity 73:4964.
Weisgerber, G. & Cierny, J.. 2002. Tin for ancient Anatolia? in YalçIn, Ü. (ed.) Anatolian metal II: 179-87. Bochum: Deutsches Bergbau-Museum.
Weninger, B., Lee, C., Rohling, E., Bar-Yosef, O., BöHner, U., Budja, M., Bundschuh, M., Feurdean, A., Gebe, H.G., JöRis, O., LinstäDter, J., Mayewski, P., MüHlenbruch, T., Reingruber, A., Rollefson, G., Schyle, D., Thissen, L., Todorova, H. & Zielhofer, C.. 2009. The impact of rapid climate change on prehistoric societies during the Holocene in the eastern Mediterranean. Documenta Praehistorica 36:759.
Wertime, T.A. 1964. Man's first encounters with metallurgy. Science 146:1257-67.
Wertime, T.A. 1978. The search for ancient tin: the geographic and historic boundaries, in Franklin, A.D., Olin, J.S. & Wertime, T.A. (ed.) The search for ancient tin: 16. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Yener, K.A. 2000. The domestication of metals: the rise of complex metal industries in Anatolia. Leiden: Brill.
Yener, K.A. & Ozbal, H. 1987. Tin in the Turkish Taurus mountains: the Bolkarda˘g mining district. Antiquity 61:220-26.
Yener, K.A., Vandiver, P.B. & Willies, L.. 1993. Reply to Muhly, J.D., ‘Early Bronze Age tin and the Taurus’. American Journal of Archaeology 97:255-64.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Tainted ores and the rise of tin bronzes in Eurasia, c. 6500 years ago

  • Miljana Radivojević (a1) (a2), Thilo Rehren (a3), Julka Kuzmanović-Cvetković (a4), Marija Jovanović (a5) and J. Peter Northover (a6)...


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.