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Reconstructing the Arsenical Copper Production Process in Early Bronze Age Southwest Asia

Boscher, LC; (2016) Reconstructing the Arsenical Copper Production Process in Early Bronze Age Southwest Asia. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

As the dominant alloy in much of the Old World for several millennia between in the Late Chalcolithic and Bronze Ages, surprisingly little work has been undertaken to understand how arsenical copper was produced and what led to its ubiquitous appearance in the archaeological record. Since arsenic and copper mineralizations often occur paragenetically, and due to the proximity of such deposits to a number of early production centres, it has often been assumed that the dominance of the alloy at the time was simply the result of the serendipitous smelting of widely available polymetallic ores. This thesis questions this narrative as overly simplistic and offers new evidence of intentional and advanced alloying techniques predating the rise of tin bronzes by several centuries. The archaeometric study of metallurgical remains from two recently excavated sites is used as the basis for the reconstruction of arsenical copper’s chaînes opératoires. The sites are Çamlıbel Tarlası in Central Turkey, dating to the mid-fourh millennium BC, and Arisman in West Central Iran, dating to the late fourth to early third millennium BC. The material under study consists of the full gamut of metal production remains, including ore minerals, crucibles, furnaces, slag, and finished objects, all of which were microscopically and compositionally characterised using optical microscopy and SEM-EDS. Other techniques, such as pXRF, EPMA, and ICP-MS were also employed to answer specific questions and in situations where the benchtop instruments were unsuitable. The overall aim of the thesis was first and foremost to evaluate ways in which arsenical copper was produced. The results demonstrate unequivocally that both naturally occurring and synthetically produced arsenic minerals were alloyed with copper in stages entirely separate from smelting. These findings are then contextualised within the wider large scale societal developments occurring at the onset of the Bronze Age by looking at the impacts of these technological innovations on the emergence of settlement specialization, the organisation of labour, and wider networks of knowledge transfer and sharing.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Reconstructing the Arsenical Copper Production Process in Early Bronze Age Southwest Asia
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > VP: International
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > VP: International > UCL - Qatar
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1529309
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