The puzzle of the Bronze Age tin

Some of the investigated tin ingots from the sea off the coast of Israel (about 1300-1200 BC). Picture credits: Ehud Galili

The origin of the tin used in the Bronze Age was for a long time one of the greatest mysteries of archaeological research. Now researchers from the University of Heidelberg and the Curt-Engelhorn Center for Archaeometry in Mannheim have solved part of the puzzle. Using natural science methods, they studied tin from the second millennium BC found at archaeological sites in Israel, Turkey and Greece. They were able to prove that this tin in the form of ingots not from Central Asia as previously thought, but from tin deposits in Europe. The results show that even in the Bronze Age there must have been complex and far-reaching trade routes between Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. Highly valued raw materials such as tin as well as amber, glass and copper were the driving forces behind this early international trading network.

Bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, was already in the late fourth and third millennium BC. Made in the Middle East, Anatolia and the Aegean. The knowledge of his production quickly spread across much of the Old World. "From bronze, weapons, jewelery and everyday objects of all kinds were produced, which have rightly inherited their name from an entire epoch." The origin of tin has long been a mystery in archaeological research ", explains Prof. Dr. med. Ernst Pernicka, who until his retirement took place both at the Institute of Earth Sciences of the University of Heidelberg and at the Curt Engelhorn Center for Archaeometry. "Tin objects and deposits are rare in Europe and Asia, and the eastern Mediterranean, where some of the objects studied, had virtually no deposits of its own, so the raw material in that region must have been imported," the researcher said.

Barren-traded metals are particularly valuable for research, as questions of origin can be addressed. The Heidelberg-Mannheimer research team around Prof. Pernicka and Dr. med. Daniel Berger investigated the tin ingots found in Turkey, Israel and Greece with the help of lead and tin isotope data as well as trace element analyzes. In this way, they were able to prove that this tin actually comes from tin deposits in Europe. For example, the tin artefacts from Israel largely correspond to those from Cornwall and Devon (Great Britain). "These results are the first to specifically identify the origin of tin metal and thus raise new insights and questions for archaeological research," adds Dr. Berger, who researches at the Curt Engelhorn Center for Archaeometry.

The puzzle of the Bronze Age tin

Tin deposits on the Eurasian continent and distribution of tin finds in the investigated area of ​​2500-1000 BC The arrow does not indicate the actual trade route but simply shows the suspected origin of the Israeli can based on the data. Picture credits: Berger et al. 2019 (Prepared by Daniel Berger)

The study appears in Plus one,

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More information:
Daniel Berger et al., Isotope systematics and chemical composition of tin ingots from Mochlos (Crete) and other areas of the Late Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean: A key to the origins of tin? PLUS ONE (2019). DOI: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0218326

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The Riddle of the Bronze Age Tin (2019, September 13)
retrieved on September 13, 2019

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