Over 5,000 years, our quest for metals has led us to strange lands, on bold adventures, through terrible hardships, and to great riches and devastating failures. Immeasurably, the fates of entire nations and peoples have been shaped by this quest. tion for many centuries. A product or process might have been developed in one area and, through trade, passed to another in a short period; or, because of isolation, the same product or proMETALS IN ANTIQUITY cess could have taken centuries to be transAll civilizations were born of agriculferred or reinvented by ture.
Although the use of copper, silver, another culture. and gold overlapped the Stone Age era, Bronze provides an their early practical application was negexcellent example of ligible. Still, even in very early history, how a new technology is metals had a significant societal impact. developed. It persists in Because of their scarcity, durability, and defying neat chronologibeauty, the ownership of metals implied cal dating. The notion of material wealth and power for the living Iron implements of China’s Han Dynasty (119 B.
C . 220 A . D. ). Left to right: sledge hammer, chisel, rake, and adz (with maker’s a simple Bronze Age preand, through votive offerings, repremark [“Ho-3”] from the number three iron and steel works of the ceding the Iron Age was sented a mystic insurance policy for the Honan Prefecture). Excavated at Tienshengou, Gongxian, discarded many years dead. This constituted a powerful emoHonan. 4 ago as archeometaltional symbolism that carried into the lurgists unraveled some following centuries to accompany the secrets of this ancient craft.
It was most inevitable technological changes that aware of great cultures elsewhere, likely produced first in Thailand, but it metals brought about in society. thereby slowing the spread of knowldid not spread from there. 1 About three Technology transfer was slow since edge, the situation allowed civilizations entire civilizations lived in virtual isolato develop in unique ways. For example, centuries later, it was developed in Scandinavia agged its European counMesopotamia; over the terparts by centuries, but the early tribes ensuing centuries, it difof Britain, Central Europe, and Asia Mifused into neighboring nor eventually opened corridors of comcultures. In the Western merce. This was a two-edged sword beworld, the knowledge of cause it brought about both developbronze lagged that of the ment and warfare. One of the first great Eastern world by more civilizations, Egypt, was protected from than three millennia.
Alinvasion by the desert and sea; thus, her though bronze had been isolation allowed peaceful growth. cast in Mesoamerica beChina, virtually a world unto itself, tween 600 A . D . and evolved with little intercourse with oth1,000 A. D. , it had to wait ers. Although the development of bronze for the Incas in the 15th in China lagged other parts of the world, century to be put to practhe technology of iron casting was centical use—mostly for turies ahead of any known culture. farming tools. Innovations such as bronze CHINA spurred trade and proIt has been only during this century vided improved weapthat we have learned much about the ons of war—powerful ancient use of metals in China, and there factors in creating sociis still little known about the influence of etal change. Electrotypes from gold objects found in the royal graves of Ur metals on politics, demographics, and Although major parts (ca 2750 B . C. ).
Excavated by Sir Leonard Wooley. Originals conflict. T. Ko pointed out that China’s of the world existed unhoused in the Iraq Museum, Baghdad. Editor’s Note: One of 15 parts, this article and the installments that follow revisit the historical record and reference figures of the past to show how mining, minerals, and metals have profoundly influenced conflict, religion, technology, economics, and mass migration on both macro- and microscales. The papers were prepared exclusively for JOM based on a keynote lecture delivered by the author to the International Symposium on Mining, which was held September 1997 in Fairbanks, Alaska. 66 JOM • April 1998 history was written by bureaucrats for bureaucrats and that craftsmen and artisans were of little concern to them.
China was no different from other parts of the world that embraced metals technology—when it did, remarkable changes were brought about. Ko tells us that although metals came into use later in China than in some other ancient civilizations, their use and development played an important role in building that land’s economic and military power “and was one of the significant factors in the formation of a unified China and in the evolution and continuation of Chinese civilization. ”3 When tourists leave the Yangtze Gorges, they enter the ancient State of Chu.
Today, that area encompasses cities such as Jiangling, the original capital of Chu; Wuhan, which currently produces ten million tonnes of steel a year; and Daye, which translates to “Grand Smeltery”—cities that formed and grew because of the mineral wealth of mines like the Tonglushan. Copper, iron, lead, and zinc enabled Chu to become the economic and cultural center of China in the 11th–3rd century B. C. 4 Junzhao Fu pointed out that, “Since copper, bronze, and iron furnished weapons, implements and constructional materials, Chu was able to build a huge army and develop her economy stronger than other states. . . the state of Chu became the most powerful state during the Spring–Autumn period through the Warring States period [475–223 B. C. ]. ”5 years; from this representation we can learn enough about the organization of the army to know that it must have been more than a match for anything that could be brought against it at that time. The chariotry that was to inspire an almost superstitious terror in the Hebrews . . . had been used by the Sumerians more than two thousand years before . . . until they had taught their neighbors to profit by their example they found no opponent to withstand their advance. ”7 China
Beijing Wuhan Shanghai Yangtze Gorges Jiangling Wuhan Daye Tonglushan YANGTZE RIVER EGYPT SUMER The ancient people of the Tigris and Euphrates area thrived because of their agriculture from as far back as 7000 B. C. Early in the 4th millennium, the Sumerians moved into Mesopotamia from the northeast. They eventually learned to fashion silver, gold, and copper into beautiful ornamental objects and crude tools using the lost-wax process. In Uruk and Ur (city states of Mesopotamia located just south of present day Baghdad), copper axes, nails, ornaments, and weapons of war were crafted—Sumer’s premium trade goods.
Metal deposits were limited in this alluvial land, so Sumerians traded finished products for metals in lands as far away as Turkey, Afghanistan, and Persia. This spread their culture to distant regions with benefits to themselves. 6 Sir Leonard Wooley interpreted old mosaics as historical documents showing how the Sumerians became warlike and extended their influence through conquest. He describes mosaics as depicting heavily armed infantry, chariots with javelin-carrying warriors, spoils of war, and lines of prisoners.
He wrote, “We know from actual examples found in their graves that their weapons were . . . far superior to anything that their contemporaries possessed or any other nation was to adopt for two thousand Like Mesopotamia, Egypt’s major ingredient a for success in her early history was agriculture. Sumerian metal workers migrated to Egypt and helped stimulate the art of carving semi-precious stones, casting copper wares, and producing ornamental objects. Copper from the Sinai and Cyprus provided the tools that helped make the pyramids possible.
It was not only Egypt’s skill in stone architecture, but the profuse use of gold that injected the country into world affairs. The pharaohs not only sought turquoise from the Sinai, but gold from the regions of the Nile and Nubia to enhance the beauty of their culture and for trade. Egypt became the dominant supplier of gold, which it traded for b goods throughout the (a) Part of the old state of Chu, mid-western Zhou Dynasty Red Sea and the eastern (1000–223 B. C. ). (b) An old mine crosscut at Tonglushan (lower right of map); Han period (5th century B . C. hrough 2nd century Mediterranean. A. D . ). Ore from ancient drifts contain 12–20 percent copper and Slavery, a societal force 30 percent iron. that has persisted until this day, was brought to or figure numbers. new heights as an industry in Egypt. 5. J. Fu, CSM, private communication (2 August 1997). Although slavery has been practiced as 6. J. Poss, Stones of Destiny (MI: MI Tech. U. Press, 1975), p. 19. 7. L. Wooley, Ur of the Chaldees (New York: Penguin Books, far back as recorded history, it was not 1929), pp. 66–67. until the building of the pyramids and 8.
Ibid, pp. 55; 82. 9. J. Poss, Stones of Destiny (MI: MI Tech. U. Press, 1975), plate the strong demand for gold that vast 12. numbers of slaves were required. AnRaymond L. Smith is a past (emeritus) president of cient mines are littered by their bones. Michigan Technological University and a member of the John Poss wrote, “Gold from the forlorn boards of directors for LS&I Railroad and Community deserts of the Nile, spawned by millenWater Company of Green Valley, Arizona. nia of human anguish and sorrow, played For more information, contact Raymond L. n important role in the spread of EgypSmith, P. O. Box 726, Green Valley, Arizona 85622; tian culture around the world. ”8 References 1. M. Cheilik, Encarta 97, The Bronze Age. 2. E. Lanning, Peru Before the Incas (New York: Prentice Hall, 1967), pp. 145; 165. 3. T. Ko, The Development of Metals Technology in Ancient China (Beijing: Beijing University of Iron and Steel Technology, 1986), p. A5. 4. Chinese Society of Metals, Publication Committee and Archaeometallurgy Group, Tonglushan, A Pearl Among Ancient Mines (Beijing: CSM); this publication does not use page
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