Scientists uncover the origin of Bronze Age tin

Some of the studied tin ingots from the sea off the coast of Israel (approx. 1300-1200 BCE). Photo by Ehud Galili, Heidelberg University.

Researchers from Heidelberg University and the Curt Engelhorn Centre for Archaeometry in Mannheim discovered that ancient tin ingots from the Bronze Age found in Greece, Israel, and Turkey did not come from Central Asia, as previously assumed, but from tin deposits in Europe.

Using lead and tin isotope data as well as trace element analysis, they were able to get to the origin of the objects. “The tin artifacts from Israel, for example, largely match tin from Cornwall and Devon in Great Britain,” they said in a media statement.

The researchers used methods of the natural sciences to uncover the geographic origin of archaeological tin artifacts from the Mediterranean

Early tin exploitation appears to have been taken place on placer deposits of cassiterite.

In the experts’ view, these findings solve a question that archaeologists have had for decades, given that the Eastern Mediterranean region -where the ingots were found- had practically none of its own tin deposits. The raw material was already being alloyed with copper to create bronze in the second millennium BCE. 

“Bronze was used to make weapons, jewellery, and all types of daily objects,” Ernst Pernicka, a retired professor at the Institute for Earth Sciences of Heidelberg University, said in the press brief. “[But] the origin of tin has long been an enigma in archaeological research.” 

Pernicka believes that the new study helps solve the enigma and shows that an early international trade network existed in the Bronze Age between Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean.

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