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Dawn of the Bronze Age:
two doabs, Tigris-Euphrates, Sarasvati-Sindhu

mariswarrior-t.jpg (7502 bytes) A warrior, ca. 2500 B.C. with helmet, battle-axe and sickle-sword; a small plaque of engraved shell from the ancient city of Mari on the Euphrates (Musee National de Louvre, Paris)
sumerweapons-t.jpg (1714 bytes) Sumer; Top to bottom: two bronze drills, a copper axehead, a copper spearhead, a copper saw blade and a bronze adzehead. (From S.N.Kramer, 1957, opcit., p. 155)
phalanx.jpg (14204 bytes) Phalanx of Sumerian soldiers armed with copper-tipped spears; relief on a stele from Tello, Mesopotamia, 3rd. millennium BC.
chanhucart.jpg (11038 bytes)chanhuwagon.jpg (4799 bytes) Clay model of a cart (pole, posts and axle reconstructed), with a top view of the chassis, Chanhudaro, Sarasvati-Sindhu valley, ca. 2,000 BC. The axle turns with the solid, non-spoked wheels.

Copper model of a passenger box on a cart, Chanhudaro, ca. 2,000 BC.



tellagrab1.jpg (5950 bytes)tellagrab2.jpg (5800 bytes)
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Carts in contemporary Mesopotamia also did not use spoked wheels.

[Copper model of a chariot with four onagers harnessed abreast, from Tell Agrab, Mesopotamia; 3rd. millennium BC; the stand has been removed in the top view presented on the left.] In Mesopotamia, the under-carriage consisted (to judge from those of the hearses foundat Kish and Ur) of a single plank, 45 to 56 cm. wide, perhaps attached to the axle-tree by straps; perhaps, the axle turned with the wheels. In the case of four-wheeled wagons there is no evidence at all that the front axle was an independent pivoted bogie. Sumerians employed the onager (Equus onager Pallas), yoked in the manner of oxen to draw war chariots and passenger vehicles. Note the quiver with spears carried on the wagon and vanquished soldier crushed under the onagers. "It is most unlikely that horses were first domesticated or yoked to chariots in Mesopotamia, for the wild equid to be expected in that area was the onager, which had in fact been tamed there by 3000 BC. It is true that a single pictographic tablet of about that date contains the sign, compounded of 'ass' and 'mountain', that a thousand years later was to be regular cuneiform ideogram for 'horse'... Wild horses (Equus caballus)--essentially steppe dwellers-- have existed in northern Eurasia... The earliest convincing representations of equids drawing cars with spoked wheels occur on cylinder-seals from Hissar in north-east Persia (2000+-200 BC) and from Cappadocia (1950-1850 BC). There are written references to horse-breeding at Chagar Bazar on the Khabur by 1800 BC..." (V.Gordon Childe, 1954, Wheeled Vehicles, in: Singer et al, opcit, pp. 718ff.) [cf. Sharma's notes on the horse bones (Equus Caballus] found in Surkotada, in a domesticated setting, Sarasvati-Sindhu valley.]

















See weapons, implements etc. made by fire-workers of Sarasvati-Sindhu

Chalcolithic (Copper-Stone) Age,  used pure copper (along with its predecessor tool-making material, stone). Use of copper was known in eastern Anatolia ca. 6000 B.C. {See: Swords, Armor and Figurines, Central Taurus (Goltepe,Kestel mines, Anatolia)[K.Aslihan Yener]} and by the mid- 4th millennium, a rapidly developing copper metallurgy, with cast tools and weapons led to urbanization in Mesopotamia.

Bronze Age of proto-historic times is a cultural revolution perhaps second in importance only to the Industrial Revolution of modern times.

The most important development in the making of bronze was the evolution of the tin-copper alloys. Depending on the tin content, these bronzes provide a wide range of valuable properties, such as hardness, toughness, or ease of casting. To make them requires a deliberate addition of tin to the copper metal. To make a significantly valuable tin-bronze, about five percent of tin is required-more if various specific properties are desired. The tin can be introduced into the copper in several ways. The simlest method is by "cementation," i.e., adding tin ore of reasonably high grade to molten copper along with charcoal. The most controllable method is to add the tin as metal to the copper.

Tin is not widely distributed and is really a semiprecious metal. Tin hardly ever occurs "native" as metal. Its only really significant ore is cassiterite (SnO2), which is normally a dull drab brown material that is difficult to distinguish from ordinary rock unless sensitive methods are used. Cassiterite has two specific properties that are useful for its separation and identification. It is very dense and if crystals of the ore are present it can have a bright sparkle because of its high refractive index. Occasionally a lump of cassiterite is found in a lode, but this is not at all common. Rich ore holds about 5.0% metal, good ore about 2.0%, and skilled miners in western England work down to about 0.2% from stream detrital deposits. Tin also occurs in the mineral stannite (Cu2SnFeS4), but this is quite rare and is not considered an important ore. Tin ore is virtually always found associated in some way with an "acid"-high silica content-rock. The density of cassiterite ranges from ca. 6.99 to 7.0 g/cc, gold from 12.0 to 20.0 g/cc, and hematite (an iron ore [Fe203] that is found associated with the Turkish tin ore) 5.26 g/cc. The typical waste-gangue-minerals with this ore are quartz, 2.65 g/cc, and calcite, 2.71 g/cc. These densities indicate the relative ease of separation by a "washing" process. There are considerable similarities in the initial stages of the mining and dressing (concentrating) of tin and gold. Similar to gold, cassiterite is usually found entrapped in gangue mineral if it is in the original lode containing the ore. A lode occurs like the cheese in a sandwich, where the cheese is the orestuff and the bread on either side the surrounding country rock. The lodestuff has to undergo several treatments. To be worked it must first be mined out, crushed to release the valuable material, and then dressed, usually by using moving water to displace the lighter gangue minerals leaving a rich head of the heavy particles of cassiterite or gold.

If the tin-gold ores have been broken down out of the lodes by weathering, the material is often carried to a stream along with the gangue, usually in gravel or sand-like debris. Often the ores can be obtained by washing, but in some cases crushing is needed to release them.

The washing can be done in a number of ways. Using a pan or similar vessel such as conical bowl-a batea-is one method, or the orestuff can be thrown into running water flowing in some form of trough or inclined plane, often with a prepared surface so that the heavy ore particles settle out of the water apart from the waste. In very dry districts winnowing can be used to make an initial separation.

A much used assay for cassiterite developed in western England's metalliferous region: a powdered sample of orestuff is swirled with water on the blade of a shovel and then given a series of upward flicking motions. The heavy cassiterite is tossed up through the water and appears as a crescent shaped patch at the top of the charge with the lighter waste below. The size of the cassiterite head indicates the richness of the ore. This technique, known as "vanning," was still in use at a major tin mine until 1985. It was a highly practical assay. It had the advantage of separating the cassiterite that could actually be recovered by washing techniques. A skilled vanner can detect down to 0.1% cassiterite in the lodestuff. The introduction of the very effective tin flotation dressing method has shown that vanning undervalues the ore.

(Extracts from the article which originally appeared in The Oriental Institute News and Notes, No. 146, Summer 1995, and is made available electronically with the permission of the editor. Tin Smelting at the Oriental Institute, By Bryan Earl, Metals Specialist, and K. Aslihan Yener, Assistant Professor, The Oriental Institute and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations The University of Chicago)

[The winnowing etc. processes are reminiscent of the Soma processing described in the Rigveda. See lexemes in the link and interpretation of Soma as electrum by Kalyanaraman in his forthcoming book (in press): Indian Alchemy, Soma in the Veda, Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi.]

"In the ancient Near East... when working gold by streaming, nodules of cassiterite (or tin-stone SnO2) were found. This cassiterite was reduced by workers already proficient in the production of gold, silver and lead. The metal obtained was held to be a kind of lead. [In Sanskrit, the term for lead is: na_ga. In Akkadian, the term for tin is: anakku). Lead and antimony were already used to increase the ease with which copper could be cast, but neither of them improved in its other qualities, notably the tensile strength. From trials with the new kind of 'lead', it would be learnt that this mixture was now improved in tensile strength as well as in ease of casting. Nor was it necessary to produce this new metal first; unrefined copper had only to be smelted with charcoal and stream-tin to produce a new kind of 'copper' (ayas in Rigveda), namely bronze, with superior qualities for tools and weapons. At the same time, certain naturally mixed ores were also worked, and were found to give the better kind of 'copper' directly. We have no proof that the tin compound of these mixed ores was ever isolated or recognized. Furthermore, at this early stage the tin content of the bronze could not be adequately controlled, and therefore varied between fairly wide limits." (Adapted from: R.J.Forbes, 1954, Extracting, smelting and alloying, in: Charles Singer, E.J.Holmyard and AR Hall (eds.), 1954, A History of Technology, Oxford, Clarendon Press).

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By 3000 BC the use of copper was well known in the Middle East, had extended westward into the Mediterranean area, and was beginning to infiltrate the Neolithic cultures of Europe .

It wasn't until approximately 3800 B.C. that bronze was produced in Tepe Yahya, Iran from the accidental blending of copper with other metals. This new mixture exhibited better properties than copper alone. Metal workers quickly found that bronze was more durable and easier to cast than copper. They found it could be bent and reworked back into its original cast shape.

Map of Anatolia and Mesopotamia showing Copper and Tin deposits and ancient sites:

The Bronze Age, alloying copper and tin, was used only rarely at first. During the 2nd millennium the use of true bronze increased. The age also marked the invention of the wheel and the ox-drawn plough. From about 1000 BC, the ability to forge iron, brought in the Iron Age.
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The malleability of unalloyed copper, which renders it too soft for weapons, helps form vessels of every variety of form. Copper domestic vessels were regularly made in Sumer during the 4th millennium BC, in India during the third millennium BC and in Egypt a little later.

This provides a perspective for the dawn and development of the bronze age in the Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization, ca. 2500 B.C. with the import of tin from sites close to the Euphrates river (Sumer) to alloy with the copper available from the Khetri mines in the central Sarasvati river basin.

As in Egypt, so in India, the smiths who worked in the precious metals of gold and silver also worked in copper and bronze. [Copper pitchers and basins for hand washing at meals were placed in the tombs. An unusual example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is plated with antimony to imitate silver, which was very rare in the Old Kingdom (c. 2686-c. 2160 BC). The basins and the bodies of the ewers were hammered from single sheets of copper. The spouts of the ewers were cast in molds and attached to the bodies by means of copper rivets or were simply inserted in place and crimped to the bodies by cold hammering. Source: 1994-1998 Encyclopaedia Britannica.]

See Turkey sites map
See map showing Goltepe and Kestel close to Euphrates river
Tin smelting techniques in Goltepe, Kestel

Kültepe texts

Kanesh is the ancient city situated on the hill Kültepe. Outside the city, on the base of the hill, a major trading colony has been found with a large number of clay tablets. These tablets are illegally traded since 1888 CE, until formal excavations start in 1948 CE and continue up to now.

Number of tablets. About 14000 clay tablets are now stored in Ankara, a number that is yearly increasing by several hundreds. It is still only a small fraction of the total expected tablets.

Contents of the tablets. The contents of the letters usually refer to the commercial process, but there are also letter about incidental problems (illness, the current political situation en route, correspondence with agents).

The commercial process

Starting the enterprise. To set up a caravan a merchant in Aur buys his merchandise with silver. He chooses a carrier (often family) and entrusts the caravan by means of a contract for transportation. He pays export taxes and gives money for expenses and duties in transit. The journey lasts for approx. 6 weeks (25 km/day). The merchandise is sealed. Before departure of the caravan, the merchant writes an extensive letter to his representative in Kanish (an agent, often family). Goods, prices and intentions are spelled out. Each spring the caravans depart with a few hundred donkeys. The business of donkey breeding must have been great those days. The return trip (silver) requires only a few donkeys.

After 6 weeks the agent in Kanesh accepts the merchandise. He announces by letter which goods are already sold and adds taxes and expenses. The merchandise sometimes was resold to the local palace or to other local agents. The local agents, who get credit against an interest rate of 33%, leave for other parts of the country to sell the goods. The middleman often runs into financial difficulties. After reaping the profits the return trip starts with almost exclusively silver and gold. Again import- and export-taxes are raised.

Merchandise. The merchandise concerns mostly imported goods. Aur is a transit center. Coupons of wool are made in Babylonia. They measure 4x4.5 meter and weigh 2 to 2.5 kg and are sold in Anatolia for a price which is threefold the purchase price. Other items are tin. Anatolia is a center of metal industry, because wood kilns is abundantly available. Bronze contains about 10-25% tin. Many hundreds of tons of tin have been exported. The tin probably originates in Afghanistan. Although Anatolia has copper mines, copper is not obtained from this part of the country. The high costs of transport make copper out of Anatolia expensive. One prefers copper from the south, that is supplied by ship.

Financing the trade. The merchants usually form family concerns, with a son in the caravan business and an other as agent in Kanesh. Investments by other people also are significant. Partnerships are entered with moneylenders to finance the transactions. Investment is done in gold through so called zak-contracts (the Akkadian name). A partnership consists of 14 persons, who collect together 30 mine gold (a mine is about 500 gram). The merchant himself has a double share: the director is the largest stockholder. The value of 30 mine gold corresponds to the equivalent of 600 slaves or 1000 yearly wages of an average workman. If someone takes a share in a zak-contract he pays half of it in silver which is booked as the equivalent in gold. Silver is a medium of exchange. The contractual term is 12 years and one guarantees a profit of 100% (normal loans have an interests of 30%, so the profit is large). Dividend is paid during the term of the contract. Special rates apply at half-term withdrawal.

[The highlighted portion of the text indicates the possibility that the copper imported was through Sumer, perhaps from the Sarasvati-Sindhu doab.]

dancer1.jpg (15989 bytes) An exquisite example of bronze sculpture in the civilization is this statue from Mohenjodaro attesting to the competence of the metallurgists of this major trading centre of the Sarasvati-Sindhu doab.
79.jpg (24253 bytes) Samples of bronze/copper, gold, silver ornaments and beads.
beadbowl1996harappa.jpg (23958 bytes) Beads and stoneware bowl, Harappa 
beads.gif (7481 bytes) More bead samples of the civilization with soldered metal joiners.