You are here

Metallurgy: Understanding How, Learning Why. Studies in Honor of James D. Muhly

Metallurgy: Understanding How, Learning Why. Studies in Honor of James D. Muhly

Edited by Philip P. Betancourt and Susan C. Ferrence. Pp. xxxv + 304, figs. 175, tables 20. INSTAP Academic Press, Philadelphia 2011. $80. ISBN 978-1-931534-57-4 (cloth).

Reviewed by

This monograph of 28 short articles constitutes a worthy Festschrift for James D. Muhly, Professor Emeritus of Ancient Near Eastern History in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania, former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, and preeminent scholar on Bronze Age metallurgy. The book is the first of two honorific publications for him; a second volume with proceedings from a 2009 conference in Nicosia also celebrates Muhly’s career (V. Kassianidou and G. Papasavvas, eds., Eastern Mediterranean Metallurgy in the Second Millennium BC [Oxford 2012]). Both Festschriften offer a rich assemblage of papers on current archaeometallurgical research, which complement two recent volumes on metallurgy (P. Day and R. Doonan, eds., Metallurgy in the Early Bronze Age Aegean [Oxford 2007]; I. Tzachili, ed., Aegean Metallurgy in the Bronze Age [Athens 2008]).

The book’s chronological framework spans the Chalcolithic through Iron Ages, but the Bronze Age and topics on copper and copper alloys receive emphasis. The geographical focus is on Cyprus, Crete, and the Cyclades, but articles on Italy, southeastern Turkey, and southwestern Asia are included. Mainland Greece, especially in the Mycenaean period, is conspicuously absent from the book—and from archaeometallurgical scholarship in general. Because limited space prohibits extensive comments on each article, this review is organized in terms of the major themes covered—early Aegean metalworking, the trade of metal, the location of Alashiya and Late Cypriot metallurgy, metallurgical technology, and finished products.

Six papers examine the nascent stages of Aegean metallurgy. Catapotis, Bassiakos, and Papadatos (ch. 8) identify the earliest traces of oxidized copper smelting on Crete with ores and slag from Kephala Petras (Siteia). Dated to Early Minoan (EM) I and possibly the Final Neolithic, viscous slag contained copper pieces with limited iron, indicative of moderately high firing temperatures. Galanaki, Bassiakos, and Perdikatsis’ analysis (ch. 9) of silver- and copper-alloy items from the Gournes, Pediada, cemetery also sheds light on EM I metallurgy. Chemical investigation revealed arsenic as the primary additive for the copper-alloy objects, yet the terminology in the paper is misleading. Copper alloy or arsenical copper are more appropriate appellations than “bronze” (82–3, table 9.1) for the tin-absent EM tools. A spectacular necklace from the Gournes cemetery has silver beads and blue stones; mineralogical tests surprisingly identified the stones as steatite instead of lapis lazuli.

New evidence for Early Bronze Age (EBA) metal­working from the Cyclades further illustrates the vibrant nature of the craft in that region. Papadopoulou (ch. 15) discusses two sites in southern Siphnos where remnants of silver/lead production and the island’s first copper-smelting evidence turned up. A domestic context at Akrotiraki yielded lead slag and remnants of silver cupellation, while furnace fragments and slag on an uninhabited ridge called Skali indicate copper-smelting operations. Nearby Seriphos is also known for its early copper production, thanks to Philaniotou, Bassiakos, and Georgakopoulou (ch. 16). Slag heaps and furnace fragments from the island’s north coast testify to copper smelting on several windy promontories (e.g., Avessalos, Kephala, Phournoi). Thermoluminescence dating of furnace pieces from Kephala and Phournoi confirms a third-millennium B.C.E. date. The toolkit of EBA smiths is hypothesized by Doumas (ch. 17), who reconstructs a portable metallurgical furnace (fig. 17.16) with a ceramic pan, crucible supports, nozzle holders, a crucible serving as a furnace base, and a perforated “mask-like” (173) cover. Several enigmatic Aegean artifacts are thus identified as having metallurgical affiliations. Further study of EBA archaeometallurgical remains and pyrotechnology will determine whether Doumas’ intriguing proposal is tenable.

Six papers discuss issues related to the origins and exchange of metal—principal archaeometallurgical topics (e.g., F. Lo Schiavo et al., eds., Oxhide Ingots in the Central Mediterranean [Rome 2009]). Provenance studies rely on lead isotope analysis—a widely used yet imperfect method of investigation. Comparison of lead isotope ratios can exclude ores but never prove matches without testing every source. Stos-Gale’s (ch. 22) reinvestigation of the Late Minoan (LM) IB oxhide ingots on Crete fails to identify the mysterious copper source for ingots from Ayia Triada, Zakros, and Tylissos. Northern Syria is one of several possibilities, but additional ores must be analyzed. Cyprus, however, is a supplier of some LM IB ingots (examples come from Mochlos, Gournia, Zakros, Kato Syme). Surprisingly, three distinct copper sources are suggested for the cache of ingots from Zakros. Gale’s paper (ch. 21) pulls together decades of work on copper ingots and reconfirms that lead isotopic ratios indicate that all post-15th-century oxhide ingots came from Apliki, Cyprus. Of note is the evidence for multiple copper pours (from the same source) in the production of certain Uluburun ingots. Farther east, several oxhide ingots turned up in a tributary off the Euphrates and are published by Pulak (ch. 28). Stored in the Şanliurfa Archaeology Museum (Turkey), the ingots resemble the Gelidonya examples and align with the Apliki ores in their isotopic fingerprint (fig. 28.3). The assemblage illustrates distinctly that Cypriot copper was shipped to eastern markets in addition to the west. Imitating the standard oxhide ingots, miniature versions from Cyprus are traditionally understood as nonfunctional cultic items. Giumlia-Mair, Kassianidou, and Papasavvas (ch. 2) maintain this position and identify the objects’ composition as pure copper. The reasons for deliberately breaking miniature ingots and for utilizing pure copper, however, remain unresolved. An investigation of the copper’s provenance should be the next line of inquiry.

Pigott’s article (ch. 27) on tin sources in southwest Asia is a substantial overview and helpful update to the tin question and its trade. The recently discovered mine at Deh Hosein, Iran, represents a potential tin source for the second-millennium B.C.E. Mediterranean. Though this supposition must be checked by future provenance analysis, the paper is a valuable resource for Aegean and eastern Mediterranean scholars, most of whom are unfamiliar with southwest Asia. Jung, Mehofer, and Pernicka (ch. 23) expand the book’s geographical coverage in their evaluation of metal exchange on continental Italy. Chemical and lead isotope analyses on Middle and Final Bronze Age objects from northern (Veneto and Lombardy regions) and southern (Apulia and Calabria) sites conclusively demonstrate a common copper source—likely the southern Alpine deposits.

Two articles offer contrasting views about Alashiya. Like most scholars, Knapp (ch. 24) associates Alashiya with Cyprus. He summarizes the total mass of Alashiyan copper in the textual records, quantities that satisfactorily correspond to Cyprus’ abundance of copper. While the production and exchange of Cypriot copper implies an overseeing, authoritative agency, the dearth of both a palace and archive is problematic for reconciling an Alashiyan king with the current archaeological evidence. Merrillees (ch. 25) critically assesses the petrographic work of Goren et al. (“The Location of Alashiya: New Evidence from Petrographic Investigation of Alashiyan Tablets from El-Amarna and Ugarit,” AJA 107 [2003] 233–55) and asserts that their claims of a Cypriot origin for the Alashiya tablets cannot be substantiated without further study. He highlights a methodological flaw in the analysis, namely that clay sources in northern Syria and Cilicia were insufficiently considered. Such methodological concerns are noteworthy, yet compelling evidence for a non-Cypriot location of Alashiya remains in want.

The primacy of metallurgy in the Cypriot economy is questioned by Hadjisavvas (ch. 3) and Karageorghis (ch. 4), who downplay the importance of metalworking at Alassa and Athienou. Despite a bellows and broken miniature ingot from Alassa-Pano Mandilaris, Hadjisavvas argues that the site’s metallurgy was secondary to agriculture, thus emphasizing Alassa’s bull figurines and their implied plowing power. His suggestion that the fragmentary cultic ingot symbolizes the metal industry’s collapse is highly speculative (26–7). Karageorghis deconstructs the traditional paradigm of cult and metallurgy at Athienou-Pamboularin tis Koukkounninas. The metallurgical nature, specifically smelting capability, of the site has been questioned along with its identification as a sanctuary. Rather than having a cultic affiliation, the ceramic and faunal assemblages are suggested to be remnants of feasting (37). Karageorghis’ reinterpretation is plausible on some levels yet fails to explicate the site’s miniature vessels or the connection, if any, between feasting and the quantities of copper nodules and roasted ores at Athienou.

Six articles discuss aspects of metallurgical technology. Peltenburg (ch. 1) argues persuasively for the extraction of indigenous copper during the Cypriot fourth millennium B.C.E., a technological development associated with the procurement of materials such as picrolite for adornment. This hypothesis is bolstered by a shift in copper consumption, namely from ornaments to utilitarian implements, throughout the Chalcolithic period.

A recently published ceramic bellows with a bridge nozzle facilitated Kassianidou’s recognition (ch. 5) of four Politico-Phorades sherds as bellows fragments. Previously, no bellows were known from Politico. These pieces, combined with numerous tuyères, confirm Cyprus’ ability to smelt copper efficiently during the early Late Bronze Age. Hein and Kilikoglou (ch. 18) investigate the technology of heat-resistant ceramics used in metallurgy (e.g., tuyères, furnaces, crucibles, molds). Analysis of such objects reveals thermal properties that limit heat transfer, such as porosity, wall thickness, and quantity of inclusions. These factors reduce thermal stress and enable ceramic tools to withstand intense heat. Slag from later contexts at Kition and Enkomi is analyzed by Hauptmann (ch. 19) in hopes of clarifying “furnace conglomerate.” This by-product is recognized as iron silicate slag, with varying quantities of copper sulfides trapped in a heterogeneous matrix. Partially processed copper arrived at coastal centers for refinement, and, at Kition and Enkomi, this secondary processing took the form of crushing and remelting copper and iron-sulfide slag.

Poursat and Oberweiler (ch. 13) review the small-scale metal industry at Protopalatial Quartier Mu (Malia), as indicated by crucibles, tuyères, and molds. Chemical testing of remnants adhering to crucibles revealed variable tin and arsenic levels in copper, implying a fluctuating availability of metals. Their analytical comparison of crucible capacity, mold size, and object weight illuminates the intricacies of metal processing.

Maddin (ch. 20) investigates carbonized iron or “steel” through metallographic study. Because of its poor preservation, iron is rarely investigated metallographically, yet Maddin demonstrates the method’s usefulness. The sequence of heating, hammering, and quenching iron resulted in a hardened, carbonized structure. This technology relies on mixing carbon atoms, stemming from charcoal fires, with iron to strengthen an object’s surface. The method is attested in Cyprus and Israel during the Early Iron Age.

Metallurgical study is not restricted to production and trade, and the value of investigating finished metal products is underscored by six articles. Hickman (ch. 10) considers the manufacturing technique, use-life, and possible Cycladic link to an EBA gold diadem from Tomb II at Mochlos. Decorated with dogs in dot repoussé, the diadem was worn, repaired, and modified into a headdress, probably for public ceremonies prior to its final deposition. Branigan (ch. 11) updates his Early Minoan triangular dagger catalogue and reevaluates the blades’ debated functionality. A new dagger from Moni Odigitria preserves a golden haft, and similar hafts are now hypothesized for several daggers. The elaborate Moni Odigitria blade and possibly others suggest a functional yet ceremonial purpose. A ritual blade associated with feasting is a reasonable proposal by Branigan.

Betancourt (ch. 12) publishes a Middle Minoan IIB gold ring from Hagios Charalambos in the Lasithi plain. A small plate, fused to a circular band, was decorated in repoussé with cockle shells and rocks—possible cultic symbols. A Malian connection to the ring is likely, leading to speculation that Lasithi belonged to the territory of Protopalatial Malia. Soles’ article (ch. 14) on the LM IB metal sistrum from Mochlos describes its archaeological and historical context. The sophisticated instrument is either an import or a product that Minoan artisans encountered—and imitated—when traveling in Egypt or the Levant. The sistrum’s copper alloy frame has traces of tin, arsenic, and lead. The cross pins and disks contained copper mixed with notable percentages of silver and tin, which enhanced the instrument’s ringing sound.

Lo Schiavo (ch. 6) reassesses a tripod and metal bowl, both likely from Cyprus, now in the Florence Archaeological Museum. The tripod, created by the lost-wax technique, has several imperfections from when it was cast. The tripod’s metal was poorly alloyed, further indicating that an inexperienced craftsman produced the stand—probably before the pinnacle of Cyprus’ tripod industry. Papasavvas (ch. 7) demonstrates that the so-called greaves on Enkomi’s Ingot God are an added metal layer, indicating modification. Using the cast-on technique, a smith attached a miniature ingot to the figurine, thus reconfiguring a typical smiting god into a new divinity associated with metallurgy. Perhaps damage to the figurine’s lower legs facilitated the change when repair proved necessary. The implications of the Ingot God’s conversion require further probing, but Papasavvas’ insightful article advances notions of religion, metallurgy, and iconography on Late Bronze Age Cyprus.

Yener (ch. 26) publishes a recently excavated shaft-hole ax from Alalakh. With three spikes and a hammer-like knob on opposite ends, the object is a plausible Hittite cultic ax. It resembles the weapon carved on the King’s Gate at Hattusha. The symbolism of the Alalakh object is convincing, but the functional capability of the weapon seems undervalued. Two vertical prongs extend from the shaft hole on the hammer-like side, thus enhancing that end’s strength and potential use as a mace head.

In sum, this Festschrift is a valuable resource for specialists and those wishing to become acquainted with the archaeometallurgical issues of the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean. Papasavvas’ article on the transformation of the Enkomi Ingot God and Pigott’s comprehensive overview of the tin problem stand out as works that will be cited regularly. The volume honors Muhly with engaging papers and should be a welcome addition to any archaeological library.

Nicholas G. Blackwell
American School of Classical Studies at Athens
Athens 106 76

Book Review of Metallurgy: Understanding How, Learning Why. Studies in Honor of James D. Muhly, edited by Philip P. Betancourt and Susan C. Ferrence

Reviewed by Nicholas G. Blackwell

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 116, No. 4 (October 2012)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1164.Blackwell

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.