Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.02.18

Iris Tzachili (ed.), Aegean Metallurgy in the Bronze Age: Proceedings of an International Symposium Held at the University of Crete, Rethymnon, Greece, on November 19-21, 2004.   Athens:  Ta Pragmata Publications, 2008.  Pp. 345.  ISBN 9789609826105.  

Reviewed by Nicholas G. Blackwell, Bryn Mawr College (
Word count: 3288 words

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This monograph represents the publication of an international conference held at the University of Crete, Rethymnon, Greece on November 19-21, 2004. The well-illustrated volume is an important, up-to-date contribution to the study of prehistoric metallurgy in the Aegean and wider Mediterranean basin. The goal of the volume is to consider recent discoveries and new approaches for the study of metallurgy over the wide spatial and temporal areas of Aegean prehistory. The articles publish new excavation data, discuss recent analytical results, demonstrate the usefulness of quantitative databases and apply new scientific approaches to the study of metals. Although the volume is not a handbook and the quality of papers varies, the publication is a valuable reference guide for specialists and generalists alike. The most significant themes and revelations include: the importance of arsenical copper in the FN-EBA or the "Age of Arsenical Copper" according to Muhly (71),1 evidence for 4th and early 3rd millennium silver-working, a greater understanding of smelting technology including the specialized nature of some smelting sites, the importance of the Late Cypriot I metal industry in exporting copper to Neopalatial Crete and the scientific methods available for examining metallic compositions. The proceedings demonstrate the shifting nature of metallurgical interests that now range from mining and smelting to casting, hammering, repairing and recycling. The monograph complements the recent publication of Metallurgy in the Early Bronze Age Aegean, signifying the general trend towards an "archaeology of metal production" and away from provenience studies.2

Tzachili (7-33) presents a helpful chronological and thematic introduction while stressing that metallurgical development was "non-linear and un-even, with many centres and a veritable mosaic of techniques" (9). The rocky relationship between archaeologists and archaeometallurgists over the last 50 years is highlighted and the current phase is termed "the age of maturity, the age of constant dialogue" (29). The necessity of collaboration for future advancements in Aegean metallurgy is also stressed by Kakavogianni et al. (57). Modern metallurgical studies shy away from typologies and focus on analysis of elemental composition, ores, smelting, refining and production, yet Tzachili suggests that typological and metallurgical approaches should be combined. A discussion of the EBA Petralona hoard is a noteworthy contribution since it is not well published and because hoarding is a significant EBA (in addition to LBA) activity. In concluding the volume, Tzachili (327-329) considers the problem of Minoan ore sources and asserts the necessity for further research. Crete lacks ore sources by modern mining standards; however, it is possible that there were suitable ore sources in antiquity, as Tzachili discusses in her review of the scant evidence for ancient ores.

Muhly (35-41) provides an enlightening historiographic review of Minoan archaeometallurgy. Although archaeometallurgy is a 'very high-tech research field', the basic research goals and questions (compositional, provenance and ore source issues) remain the same today as they were in the late 19th century (35). The 20th century saw two important developments in the investigation of the provenance of metals through elemental analysis: the Studien zu den Anfängen der Metallurgie, or SAM Project, and lead isotope analysis. Muhly believes that the papers from this conference signal a shift in Aegean metallurgy: a change from elemental analyses to fundamental metallurgical issues including: mining, initial smelting, re-smelting and refining, casting and production.

The contributions to the first and largest thematic section, "The First Steps: Silver, Copper and Arsenical Bronze", read well together and examine FN-EBA metalwork. Kakavogianni, Douni and Nezeri (45-57) report exciting discoveries for early Attic silver-working. As a consequence of construction work for the Olympic preparations in Attica, a number of FN-EH I sites were uncovered. The litharge, or lead oxide (PbO) by-products of cupellation (a process that removes silver from lead ores), found at these sites verify the existence of early silver-working. . The most significant site, FN-EH I Lambrika (Koropi), yielded large amounts of litharge, suggesting an organized workshop. Morphological variations of litharge fragments imply that different cupellation methods were used. As this material is relatively new, the article leaves many questions unanswered, yet early Attic metalworking seems remarkable.

Papadopoulos (59-67) presents similar evidence for cupellation at Limenaria (southwestern Thasos) during the early 4th millennium BC. Litharge fragments, an early silver pin, and argentiferous lead ores from the island indicate that silver was extracted from local ores and was worked in the FN period. EBA metalworking at Limenaria expanded to copper production reminiscent of that found in the southern Aegean, which is attested by significant quantities of slag, cupriferous iron-ore fragments and a metal-working clay crucible. It is assumed that the copper-bearing ores were of local origin, however, this does not seem to have been proven.

The earliest stage of Minoan metal consumption in the form of arsenical copper is evident in Muhly's discussion of the Ayia Photia cemetery (69-74). There is a strong Cycladic cultural presence within the cemetery, yet it is unclear whether the metalwork from the burial ground is Minoan or Cycladic. Muhly proposes an EM I date for the Ayia Photia metalwork, which he considers more Minoan in nature. There are some metallurgical connections to the Cyclades in the cemetery including the appearance of silver, lead and two Cycladic-like crucibles, yet it remains unclear whether the Ayia Photia metalwork was local or imported since the EM I cemetery would predate most Cycladic metallurgical evidence.

Vasilakis' paper on Minoan silver-working considers the craft from the FN to the LM III (75-85). Numerous illustrations and photographs detail the development of and preferences for silver objects on Crete. Jewelry, personal implements, vessels and weapons comprise the artifact types, and the silver technology clearly becomes more elaborate over time. The article, however, lacks interpretative analysis and the data resemble a general catalogue, which is disappointing considering the paucity of scholarship on Minoan silver-working.

Gale, Kayafa and Stos-Gale (87-104) examine the role of metallurgy in EH Attica. Metallurgical remains and metal objects found at Raphina and Askitario in the 1950s are reported and analyzed. Evidence for metallurgical activity at these eastern Attic coastal sites includes slag, tuyères, stone moulds and perforated furnace fragments. Slag analysis confirms that cupriferous ores were smelted at Raphina; furthermore, the furnace temperature reached 1200 degrees Celsius, an advantageous temperature for tapping slag. Lead isotope analysis reveals that EH II smelting at Raphina employed Lavrion ores, which are also attested in Crete and Thera. The article emphasizes the importance of metalworking in EBA Attica and the key metallurgical position of Lavrion throughout prehistory.

Betancourt (105-111) describes the important FN to EM III/ MMIA smelting site at Chrysokamino, Crete. The Chrysokamino metallurgical evidence includes perforated chimney and bowl furnace fragments, a tuyère, pot bellows, copper prills, slag and small pieces of copper and iron ore. Flow lines within slag fragments indicate that slag was tapped out of the furnace for retrieval purposes. Arsenic was detected within copper prills, indicating that arsenic was added, either accidently or deliberately, during smelting. The Chrysokamino furnace produced impure copper at a limited level. The specialized nature of the site is emphasized by the fact that the ore was probably imported. The article by Catapotis, Pryce and Bassiakos (113-121) complements Betancourt's study. Three experimental smelts were conducted to investigate Chrysokamino smelting technology. The experiments demonstrated that perforated chimney walls significantly increased the temperature within the upper furnace. Experiments also determined that olive-pressings were not used as fuel and slag was tapped only under extremely high thermal conditions.

Tselios examines the technological production of metal objects in Prepalatial Crete through metallographic analysis (123- 129). The structures of EM weapons and tools were examined through investigation of polished thin sections taken from the objects' cutting edges. Combinations of casting, hammering and annealing were detected, thus shedding light on production and repair sequences. Variations in metallographic examination may reveal divergent functions and values for the objects. The potential of metallographic studies is wide-ranging as the method essentially examines production and use-wear.

The next five papers are grouped within "The Minoan Metallurgical Tradition" and primarily deal with the 2nd millennium. Gillis and Clayton (133-142) once again address the perplexing tin conundrum. They also provide analytical results of tin isotope studies, include an extensive tin bibliography and suggest future avenues of research. The authors hoped that tin isotope analysis would enlighten provenance issues, yet tin fingerprinting remains unlikely. Different tin sources were shown to produce variant isotopic ratios, yet experimental work is necessary to verify the stability of tin isotopes throughout metallurgical procedures. If tin isotopes are unchangeable, tin studies could expand with the examination of tin within bronze objects.

Two articles assess the metalworking industry at Neopalatial Mochlos by discussing recently excavated material. Soles (143-156) highlights 10 LM I metal hoards ranging from foundry hoards, traders' hoards and ceremonial assemblages. Two hoards, however, contain a single metal object and should not be classified as hoards in my opinion. Lead isotope analyses indicate that copper oxhide ingots and fragments from these hoards originated in Cyprus. This information refutes previous notions that Cypriot copper first reached Crete during the 13th century. Soles believes that the foreign finds at Mochlos mirror the later Uluburun cargo, revealing that 14th century trade routes may have originated during the Neopalatial period. Brogan's article (157-167) assesses the craft organization of metal-working prior to the construction of the LM IB artisans' quarter, where metal objects were cast and hammered at a household level. Metallurgical remains are now attested from the main settlement at Mochlos including bellows, slag, crucibles, tongs, moulds, unworked copper strips, stone tools and pumice. The new metallurgical evidence indicates that craft activity was dispersed throughout the site prior to the artisan's quarter. The combination of the metallurgical remains and hoards will revise views of the metallurgical activities at Mochlos.

A single paper discusses Aegean gold working: Papasavvas (169-181) examines the LM IA-B gold ring from Syme Viannou and considers the manufacture of signet rings. Although signet rings appear cast solid, the Syme ring (type IV) consists of manipulated gold sheets joined by hard soldering. The bezel was made of the two gold sheets encapsulating a pitch or resin core, which enabled detailed impressions on the gold surface through the implementation of hand and hammer burins. The delicate nature of engraving and soldering testifies to the precision and fine workmanship of Minoan artisans.

La Marle's discussion (183-193) of the relationship between technological shifts and lexical usage in Linear A is intriguing, yet difficult to assess for non-linguists. La Marle asserts that Linear A lexical groups relate to different copper-alloys and that shifts in lexical usage mirror copper-alloy changes. Fundamental to La Marle's argument is his theory that Linear A is an Indo-Iranian language.3 As Linear A decipherments are contentious,4 the validity of multiple Linear A words representing various metal combinations is highly questionable.

Two papers in the "Quantitative Assessments" section highlight the diachronic developments in Aegean metallurgy based upon patterns gleaned from large databases. Hakulin (197-209) considers metallurgical changes on LM Crete through an examination of tools, weapons, vessels, cultic and personal objects from various contexts. The majority of bronze objects are from the Neopalatial period, when tools are the most common bronze item, settlements are the typical context and stone moulds are the preferred casting method. Following the Neopalatial period, dominant preferences shift toward weapons, burials and lost-wax casting, possibly reflecting the Mycenaean presence on the island. Kayafa's paper is the only entry that considers Mycenaean metallurgy in any detail (211-223). A massive database (17,500 objects) was compiled of prehistoric Peloponnesian copper-based objects, mostly from settlements, burials and hoards. This diachronic assessment enables one to consider a range of questions that deal with temporal and regional consumption patterns and possible socio-cultural changes. The greatest quantity of copper-based objects occurs during the LH III period, when preferences shift from copper-based luxury to functional objects.

The trade of metals, and specifically copper oxhide ingots, mandates the inclusion of the Central and Eastern Mediterranean in the study of Aegean metallurgy, as evident in "The Wider Mediterranean Context" section. Lo Schiavo (227-245) reviews the archaeological context for oxhide ingots in Sardinia, Sicily, Corsica and southern France, provides an extensive bibliography and updates the picture with recent finds. An intriguing hypothesis is postulated: Nuragic (Sardinian) ships were responsible for traveling east and acquiring Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean goods, highlighted by Cypriot oxhide ingots. Although this theory cannot be proven, miniature Sardinian bronze boats may reflect the significance of Nuragic ships. A brief postlude to Lo Schiavo's article (Farinetti: 246-248) reports the creation of a digital archive known as Oxhide, which will catalogue all Central Mediterranean oxhide ingots and their analytical results. The completion and publication of this project will be a welcome addition for scholars interested in the consumption and exchange of Mediterranean metals.

Kassianidou presents intriguing evidence that revises old assumptions for Cypriot metallurgy during the MC - LC period (249-267). Kassianidou rightly proposes that primitive copper smelting developed in the MC period (Ambelikou, Alambra, Kalopsidha, Pyrgos and Katydata), and became more advanced by the early LC period with the creation of tuyères at Politiko-Phorades and Enkomi. LC I Politiko-Phorades was a specialized smelting site that transformed copper sulphide ores to matte; further matte refining was necessary to produce pure copper. The traditional picture of early Cypriot metallurgy as being rather limited has been transformed to include the probable exportation of copper to Crete in the MC-LC I period. This scenario confirms recent lead isotope analysis suggesting Cypriot origins for metal objects dating to the LM IB (Mochlos and Gournia) and MM IIB (Malia) periods.

Four papers in "Technological Questions" demonstrate various scientific approaches for analyzing ancient metals. Alloys are discussed throughout the monograph, but Papadimitriou (271-287) provides a helpful diachronic view of prehistoric alloy use and development. The change in forming techniques, such as casting and hard-working, are considered through metallographic analysis. The castability and desired hardness of the object affect both the selected alloy and the formation technique. Different alloys have divergent effects on the final product revealing specific, technical choices to the bronzesmith. Cultural and technological needs understandably dictated the proliferation of variant copper-alloy types.

Exciting new possibilities for archaeometallurgical studies are discussed by Anglos et al. (289-296). An innovative, transportable machine, Element One (LMNTI), has been designed to analyze metallic objects in-situ with minimal damage. The machine employs laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) to assess metallic elemental compositions. EM-MM metal finds, primarily copper-based, from Ayios Charalambos cave were analyzed with this new technology and the elemental compositions were reported. One limitation of LIBS, however, is that elements are not evaluated quantifiably. The potential application of a transportable instrument to acquire metallic elemental information in the field is an exciting development for Aegean prehistory and archaeometallurgy.

Compositional analysis of metal finds from LM III Armenoi is reported by Kallithrakas-Kontos and Maravelaki-Kalaitzaki (297-303). Energy Dispersive X-ray Fluorescence (EDXRF) is a non-destructive analytical technique for assessing elemental characterization of metals. The strength of the paper is the demonstration of non-destructive EDXRF analysis for metallic elemental composition and the application of infra-red spectroscopy (FTIR) for conservation purposes of corroded areas. The identification of two tin beads increases the number of Aegean tin objects, yet only 11 objects were examined from Armenoi and the overall importance of the cemetery's metals is vague.

Hein and Kilikoglou address the thermal aspects related to smelting (305-313). Ceramic elements of the smelting process, (furnace bowls and chimneys, crucibles and tuyères) needed to withstand the high smelting temperatures. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) enabled analysis of ceramic thin-sections which revealed vitrification levels and corresponding firing temperatures. In order to gauge the thermal levels within the furnace, finite element analysis (FEA) was employed to produce a computer model of heat transfer on the furnace's ceramic elements. The paper emphasizes the value of computer modeling in ascertaining pyrotechnological smelting details.

Karimali stresses that future research must consider undervalued, parallel industries associated with metallurgy, such as lithics (315-325). Although some stone instruments (flat axes) served as prototypes for metallic versions, lithic production did not languish with the initial appearance of metallic implements. Stone tools used for cutting, paring and piercing (axes, adzes, chisels, drills, knives, sickles and pointed implements) were preferred over metal types in the FN and EBA periods, while metal versions essentially displaced stone types by the MBA and LBA. Other stone tools, however, such as hammers, grinding stones, mortars, pestles and querns were never supplanted by metal types. The relationship of coexistence or replacement between stone and metal tools seems influenced by elite associations with carpentry, stone masonry and weaponry.

For a volume on Aegean metallurgy, there is a dearth of papers dealing with the Cyclades and the Mycenaean mainland, as the publication is very Minoan-centric, thus reflecting current research. The lack of Mycenaean metallurgical studies, however, is surprising considering the high number of Pylian bronzesmiths in the Linear B records and the quantity of Mycenaean copper-based objects from the Peloponnese.5 A concise glossary detailing the various technical approaches would have aided non-archaeometallurgists, and there are numerous typographical errors throughout the monograph. These criticisms, however, do not detract from the volume's worthwhile informative discussions and important metallurgical revelations.

Table of Contents:

1. Iris Tzachili. Aegean Metallurgy in the Bronze Age: Recent Developments, 7-33.
2. James D. Muhly. An Introduction to Minoan Archaeometallurgy, 35-41.

The First Steps: Silver, Copper and Arsenical Bronze

3. Olga Kakavogianni, Kerasia Douni and Fotini Nezeri. Silver Metallurgical Finds dating from the End of the Final Neolithic Period until the Middle Bronze Age in the Area of Mesogeia, 45-57.
4. Stratis Papadopoulos. Silver and Copper Production Practices in the Prehistoric Settlement at Limenaria, Thasos, 59-67.
5. James D. Muhly. Ayia Photia and the Cycladic Element in Early Minoan Metallurgy, 69-74.
6. Andonis Vasilakis. Silver Metalworking in Prehistoric Crete. An Historical Survey, 75-85.
7. Noel H. Gale, Maria Kayafa and Zofia A. Stos-Gale. Early Helladic Metallurgy at Raphina, Attica, and the Role of Lavrion, 87-104.
8. Philip P. Betancourt. The Copper Smelting Workshop at Chrysokamino: Reconstructing the Smelting Process, 105-111.
9. Mihalis Catapotis, Oli Pryce and Yannis Bassiakos. Preliminary Results from an Experimental Study of Perforated Copper-smelting Shaft Furnaces from Chrysokamino (Eastern Crete), 113-121.
10. Thomas Tselios. Pre-palatial Copper Metalworking in the Mesara Plain, Crete, 123- 129.

The Minoan Metallurgical Tradition

11. Carole Gillis and Robin Clayton. Tin and the Aegean in the Bronze Age, 133-142.
12. Jeffrey Soles. Metal Hoards from LM IB Mochlos, Crete, 143-156.
13. Thomas M. Brogan. Metalworking at Mochlos before the Appearance of the Artisans' Quarters, 157-167.
14. George Papasavvas. A Closer Look at the Technology of some Minoan Gold Rings, 169-181.
15. Hubert La Marle. Minoan metallurgy and Linear A: Definitions, Lexical Slides and Technological Changes, 183-193.

Quantitative Assessments

16. Lena Hakulin. Bronzeworking on Late Minoan Crete: An Overview based on Published Data, 197-209.
17. Maria Kayafa. Copper-based Artefacts in the Bronze Age Peloponnese: A Quantitative Approach to Metal Consumption, 211-223.

The Wider Mediterranean Context

18. Fulvia Lo Schiavo. Oxhide Ingots in the Central Mediterranean: Recent Perspectives, 227-245.
Emeri Farinetti. A Digital Archive for Oxhide Ingots, 246-248.
19. Vasiliki Kassianidou. The Formative Years of the Cypriot Copper Industry, 249-267.

Technological Questions

20. George Papadimitriou. The Technological Evolution of Copper Alloys in the Aegean during the Prehistoric Period, 271-287.
21. Demetrios Anglos, James D. Muhly, Susan C. Ferrence, Krystalia Melessanaki, Anastasia Giakoumaki, Stephania Chlouveraki and Philip P. Betancourt. LIBS Analysis of Metalwork from the Ayios Charalambos Cave, 289-296.
22. Nikos Kallithrakas-Kontos and Noni Maravelaki-Kalaitzaki. EDXRF Study of Late Minoan Metal Artworks, 297-303.
23. Anno Hein and Vassilis Kilikoglou. Finite Element Analysis (FEA) of Metallurgical Ceramics Assessment of their Thermal Behaviour, 305-313.
24. Lia Karimali. Lithic and Metal Tools in the Bronze Age Aegean: a Parallel Relationship, 315-325.
25. Iris Tzachili. An Addendum: Were there Sources of Metal Ores on Crete or not? 327-329.


1.   The importance of arsenical copper was first observed by Zenghelis in the early 20th century and re-emphasized in the mid-1960s by Renfrew and Charles, yet today there is a better understanding of the proliferation of arsenical copper throughout the Aegean in the late 4th and 3rd millennia. For the fundamental studies on arsenical copper see: Zenghelis, C. 1905. "Sur le bronze préhistorique,' in Mélanges Nicole, 603-610; Renfrew, C. 1967. "Cycladic Metallurgy and the Aegean Early Bronze Age," AJA 71, 1-20; Charles, J.A. 1967. "Early Arsenical Bronzes: A Metallurgical View," AJA 71, 21-26.
2.   Day, P.M. and R.C.P. Doonan (eds.). 2007. Metallurgy in the Early Bronze Age. Sheffield studies in Aegean archaeology, 7, xi. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
3.   La Marle, H. 2000. Introduction au Linéaire A; 1996-1999. Linéaire A. la première écriture syllabique de Crète. 4 volumes. Paris: Paul Geuthner.
4.   Bennett, E. 1985. "Linear A Houses of Cards," in Pepragmena tou E' Diethnous Kritologikou Synedriou (Agios Nikolaos, 25 Septemvriou - 1 Oktovriou 1981), edited by T. Detorakis, 47-56. Irakleios, Kritis: Etairia Kirtikon Isotorikon Meleton.
5.   For references regarding the number of bronzesmiths at Pylos, see: Gillis, C. 1997. "The Smith in the Late Bronze Age: State Employee, Independent Artisan, or Both?" in TEXNH: Craftsmen, Craftswomen, and Craftsmanship in the Aegean Bronze Age. Proceedings of the 6th International Aegean Conference. Philadelphia, Temple University, 18-21 April 1996. Aegaeum 16, edited by R. Laffineur and P. Betancourt, 506 note 5. Liège: Université de Liège.

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