Significance of ingot


To investigate the significance of ingot during the Bronze Age within the Mediterranean trade industry.

Chapter I: Introduction

        The significance of the ingots in the Bronze Age has long been recognized in the development of metallurgical technology, social organization and the primary focus of this research, the Mediterranean trade industry.

        The metal ingots, particularly those made from copper and tin became an important aspect in the Bronze Age trade, as they were the bulk of the ship's cargo. Furthermore the location of these metal ores occur in geographically localized areas, which would have limited access of prehistoric communities to metals, which therefore encouraged long distance trade between them. (Jones, 2007, 1) Copper was especially an important raw material as it was used for making tools, weapons and status-enhancing luxury goods. Moreover, copper was the main component within the sea trade. Evidence found on Mesopotamia and Dilmun, Egypt, Levant, the Aegean and later the central Mediterranean suggests cargoes were much easier to transport by sea than by overland. The shipwrecks at Uluburun (c.1300B.C) and Cape Gelidonya (c.1200B.C) provide direct evidence for the transport of copper ingots by sea. This has therefore influenced Mediterranean cultures to increase maritime trade and established interregional contacts for copper and tin access. This also applies for metals such as gold, silver and led which also played a role in long-distance trade, thought not in the same quantities as copper.

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        There have been many debates for the exact nature of this trade. Muhly mentions that the metal ingots would provide us "a proper understanding of the nature and the scope of this trade." (1977, 73) However, we cannot base our hypothesis on understanding Bronze Age trade on the metal ingots alone as "The metals trade would have differed considerable in volume and organization in different regions, depending on locally available resources, geography, established trade routes, local metallurgical technology, and various social and political factors." (Jones, 2007, 3) The most direct evidence for an analysis of early trade comes from Tell el Amarna. The three-hundred-eighty-two clay tables found within the city, where records of subtle communication with foreign powers. These clay tablets provide evidence that the role of the metal ingots in the development of long-distance trade in metals varied over time. However they provide no evidence for the sources of tin and copper which suggest that they must have been imported from countries such as Cyprus.

        Cyprus is generally known for its dominance within the copper production. "This historical situation is well-known among Cypriot and Mediterranean archaeologists, and the copper ingots represent the end product of a complex process involving the mining, smelting and casting of copper."(Knapp, Kassianidou, Donnelly, 2001, 204) However this 'historical situation' was very complex and poorly understood. Nevertheless the evidence shows that the Cypriots played a dominant role within the copper industry. Sites, such as the Troodos Mountains in western and central Cyprus, contained the largest quantity of copper ore in the Mediterranean; thus becomes an important source within the copper metallurgy in the Late Cypriot societies.

        Other sites in Cyprus were also significant in understanding the copper metallurgy. By the Late Cypriot period (c.1400-1100B.C.) many sites became wealthy regional centres; sites such as Enkomi, Hala Sultan Tekke, Kition and several other settlements. These cities were important in understanding trade, due to their contribution in copper production and export. These cities however, did not produce any documents involving trade like the palaces; a few Bronze Age inscriptions found called 'Cypro-Minoan'. These were undeciphered syllabic scripts which have been suggested to contain economic texts, votive inscriptions, or for instance the clay balls from Enkomi and Kition contained short legends. However a number of archaeologists believe that the function of these scripts is yet to be known. Nonetheless epigraphers suggested that these texts show signs from a Cypro-Minoan alphabet, which may be identified on trade items such as the Cypriot and Mycenaean pottery and a variety of oxhide ingots. This connection between the scripts and the goods has recently been well-established.

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        As important as Cyprus was within the copper production, archaeologists struggled to uncover evidence for Bronze Age smelting activities. Virtually all the slag deposits discovered on the mining areas dated to periods after the Bronze Age. "While more evidence for Middle and Late Cypriot copper mining and metallurgical production is available today, unfortunately this evidence is generally fragmentary and difficult to interpret." (Jones, 2007, 6)

        Nonetheless, the led isotope analysis proved to be very successful and accurate, as it measured the stable isotopes of lead using a mass spectrometer in order to characterize particular samples. This method respectively measured the samples' radioactive concentration according to the geological age of the lead ores. This analysis would provide archaeologists with near-conclusive evidence that Cypriot copper was exported on a significant scale. The chemical and metallographic analysis show high quantities of pre copper within the oxhide ingots. This analysis suggests a high demand and production for copper in the Bronze Age.

        Another important aspect of Bronze Age trade were the shipwreck discoveries, especially those found at Uluburun and Cape Gelidonya. Each of these shipwrecks provide important information for the nature and organization of the copper trade within the period of 1300-1200B.C. The Uluburun and Cape Gelidonya cargoes contained the largest quantities of copper ingots, especially Uluburun which approximately contained over ten tons of copper and one ton of tin ingots. The three-hundred and fifty-four ingots found within this cargo exceed previous cargoes found on land and on underwater sites. Other significant goods found within the Uluburun cargo include a large number of glass ingots, about one ton of terebinth resin in Canaanite jars, Cypriot pottery in several pithoi, and a wide variety of luxury goods plus other items such as the personal possessions of the crew and passengers which bordered the ship. These goods were also noteworthy as they are an indication for directional trade; items such as the Nefertiti scarab.

        On the other hand the Cape Gelidonya ship is significantly different. This complete excavation contained in its vessel thirty-four complete copper oxhide ingots as well as other ingot types. The Cape Gelidonya ship seems to have a lower status that the Uluburun ship as it was a great deal smaller in size that the Uluburun ship and the goods it contained and transported have a lower value.

        These shipwrecks raise a number of theories which are important in understanding Bronze Age trade. How significant was the status of the goods found within the cargoes? Are the smaller cargoes, for instance the one found at Cape Gelidonya, more typical that the larger ones? How common was the transportation of the copper and tin ingots? How does this change our view on the Bronze Age trade? This question also applies to land-based transportation. The most appropriate would be that the production and circulation of metals occurred in several different ways to one another. However this response is very generally used, as there are a number of possibilities to differences between copper and tin ingots. Nonetheless the most dominant explanations are the variations of trade mechanisms, the geological and geographical factors, the social organization of societies involved and the uses to which the metals were employed. These are a few of the explanations used to help us relate copper and tin ingots to Bronze Age trade and allow us to understand the differences between each ingot. Furthermore we could now make the theory that by analysing these ingots in depth would allow us to recognize the trade routes within the Mediterranean.

        There are a range of evidence which describe the trade and production of copper, tin and other metals in the Bronze Age. The most common are the textual evidence of Tell el Amarna, Mesopotamia, Aegean, Syria-Palestine and Anatolia. However the iconographic evidence is also of equal importance as several cultures such as the Egyptians, Cypriots and Mycenaean's represented their oxhide ingots in pictorial forms. These "Representations of oxhide ingots demonstrate a cultural group's familiarity with copper ingots in this form and therefore their access to interregional trade routes connected with the source or sources of copper used to make oxhide ingots." (Jones, 2007, 9) Iconographic evidence such as the paintings and reliefs found at Sahure's burial temple represent the ships' crews. This provides information on the ship's origin and information on the different foreign groups involved within the Mediterranean trade.

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