Trade in and metal sources
for the Indian Bronze Age Civilization

1.   Na_ga, lead ore

snakeamulet.jpg (14736 bytes)Soch, Fergana : amulet of black stone decorated with two snakes (After a photo in Iran, 1971 of the object in Tashkent Historical Museum; see map 10 in Pennhallurick, 1986).
  If the pictorial motif connotes na_ga, it may be a grapheme connoting ana_ku, tin. [In Sanskrit, na_ga is associated with the lead ore].

An early bead necklace found buried with a young woman in Level VIA at Catal Huyuk in Turkey (ca. 6000 BCE) was made of galena mineral (lead sulfide).

"The best evidence for the existence of a smelting technology comes with the use of lead, not copper.   Native lead is extremely rare, so it is most likely that any ancient land artifact was made of lead smelted from various lead ores, including galena (lead sulfide), the most common lead ore and one that occasionally contained silver, This silver was extracted from the lead by a process known as cupellation.   It is commonly argued that all metallic lead found in Bronze Age or earlier contexts was produced as the inevitable by-product of the recovery of silver.   This cannot be correct, for many early lead artifacts contain too much trace-element silver for their lead ever to have been desilvered.   The earliest known lead artifacts also come from a time that must predate the first use of the cupellation process.   It has to be accepted that, in the Bronze Age and earlier, lead ores were being smelted in order to obtain metallic lead."

(James D. Muhly, 1995, Mining and Metalwork in Ancient Western Asia, in: Jack M. Sasson, ed. 1995, Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, Vol. III, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, pp.1501-1521).

2.   ayas, copper ore and copper from Melukkha

Amarakos'a (2.9.97; K.G. Oka, The Amarakos'a, repr. Delhi, 1981, p.155) reads:
atha ta_mrakam, s'ulvam mlechochhamukham dvyas.t.a varis.t.h odumbara_n.i ca: four words are given as synonyms: ta_mraka, s'ulva, mlecchamukham, udumbaram.   The section appended to the Vedic Kalpa or S'rautasu_tra on the rules of making fire-altars, their diagrams and geometry is referred to as s'ulbasu_tra; if s'ulva refers to copper, the su_tra or rajju, the measuring rope should be interpreted as copper wire.   Another interpretation could be: rules for copper (in alchemical terms).   Kaut.ilya's Arthas'a_stra (ca. 3rd cent. BC) recognizes s'ulba as copper.

(Kangle, R.P., 1960, The Arthas'a_stra, Bombay;; 2.14.20-22, 30-31). cf. Edgerton, P., 1970, Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Dictionary, repr. Delhi, p.531: ta_mraloham ca sulvam; p.533, sasulbika = coppersmith.

"The carbonate minerals of copper, malachite and azurite, have long been used as semiprecious stones and as pigments (for green and blue, respectively).   It is always important to distinguish between mineral and metal.   The carving of malachite as a semiprecious stone has nothing to do with copper metallurgy.   Nor does the use of hematite (iron oxide) in Chalcolithic maceheads and Old Babylonian cylinder seals have anything to do with iron metallurgy.   The earliest massive copper artefact from the ancient Near East is probably the copper macehead from level 2B at Can Hasan, in southern Anatolia, dating to about 5000 BCE.   From about 5000 BCE the site of Tall-i-Iblis, in southern Iran, has produced an array of small bowl furnaces and crucibles that have been associated with copper smelting.

"Copper Workshops.   The best example of a pre-Bronze Age copper workshop is probably that from period II9 at Tepe Ghabristan (just west of Tehran), dating to about 4500 BCE.   Excavations there yielded crucibles, molds, a tuyere, some sort of furnace, and a deep bowl with more than twenty kilograms (about forty-five pounds) of copper ore in nut-sized pieces.   A copper workshop from late Ubaid levels at Degirmentepe, on the upper Euphrates and dating to about 4000, is known only from brief preliminary reports, as is the copper workshop from Chalclothic Nors'untepe in Keban area of southeastern Turkey.  

"In Iran the site of Susa (modern Shush) has yielded a wealth of metal finds, including a collection of fifty-five large and small flat axes, chisels, pins, and flat mirrors, made of copper or arsenical copper and dating to about 4000.   There is also some evidence to indicate that by the late fourth millennium BCE, Mesopotamian metalworkers were experimenting with different alloys.   A small lion figurine from Uruk (modern Warka), of the late Uruk or Jamdat Nasr period, was found to contain 9 percent lead; and an unusual type of arrowhead from the Riemchen Building at Uruk contained more than 25 percent silver.

"Various workshops for copper (and bronze) metallurgy have been identified in Mesopotamia, but nothing very convincing before the early second millennium BCE.   From that period, workshops were spread over a wide area including the ka_rum Kanesh (modern Kultepe), level Ib (southern Anatolia), Tell Sweyhat (Syria), and Tell edh-Dhiba'i (suburb of Baghdad).   Tell edh-Dhiba'i produced an impressive array of crucibles, molds, tuyeres, and pot bellows.
   In the early third millennium the Sumerians, for no obvious reason, are thought to have switched to copper from Oman, an area known to them as the land of Magan (as it was to the Greek geographer Ptolemy (second century CE), who knew the region of the Persian Gulf as the Mago_n kolpos).   Iranian metallurgy continued to develop during the course of the third millennium, but it is possible that the development of Gulf trade, resulting in the establishment of contact with Harappan civilizatin of the Indus Valley, prompted a Mesopotamian shift from Iran to more convenient (perhaps more accessible) sources of copper in Oman.   It is also possible that an Iranian (or Elamite) shift in focus to the Central Asian lands of Bactria and Margiana cut off Mesopotamian access to the copper deposits of Iran, forcing the Sumerians to seek new sources of copper.  

"The Bronze Age exploitation of the Omani copper deposits seems to have coincided with what are most likely two related phenomena : (1) references in Mesopotamian texts to copper from Magan and to obtaining that copper either directly from Magan or through the intermediate agency of Dilmun (the island of Bahrain)-- the copper did not come FROM Dilmun but THROUGH Dilmun; and (2) the period of the Mature Harappan phase of the Indus Valley Civilization.

"This second correlation suggests that contact and trade with Mesopotamia were factors contributing to the development of the Indus Valley civilization, established in an area known to the Sumerians as the land of Melukkha.   So close was the relationship that the traders of Dilmun used the same system of weights and measures as that found in the Indus Valley.   From the figures given in Sumerian texts it would appear that the Dilmun shekel was about three times heavier than the standard Sumerian one.   It has been thought by some scholars that transactions at Ebla (modern Tell Mardikh) were also conducted on the basis of the Dilmun shekel, but this reading of the sign in question in the Ebla texts cannot be substantiated, and all theories regarding references to Dilmun at Ebla remain conjectural.

"The amount of copper involved in this trade was quite considerable.   One text from Ur (UET 5 796), dated to the reign of Rim-Sin of Larsa (1822-1763 BCE), records the receipt in Dilmun of 611 talents, 6 2/3 minas of copper (presumably from Magan).   This shipment, according to the text, was weighed according to the standard of Ur, giving a modern equivalent of 18,333 kilograms (40,330 pounds) of copper.   One-third of this copper was earmarked for delivery to of Ur, a merchant who had close connections with Magan and the Dilmun copper trade.   This contact beween Metopotamia and the Indus Valley, the land of Melukkha, was clearly by sea and must have brought products across the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf.   These products included the copper of Magan.   Did they also include the tin of Afghanistan and Central Asia, perhaps the tin designated by Gudea, king of Lagash (now known to be a contemporary of Ur-Nammu, king of Ur, circa 2100 BCE), as the tin of Melukkha?"

(James D. Muhly, 1995, Mining and Metalwork in Ancient Western Asia, in: Jack M. Sasson, ed. 1995, Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, Vol. III, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, pp.1501-1521).

bali, luhui stone sand (Santali.lex.)lo_ha reddish; red metal, metal; lo_ha-man.i lump of gold (ChUp.); lo_s.t.ha lump of earth, clod (JUB. i.1.7.5); lo_ha_yasa copper; made of copper; lo_hita_yasa made of iron mixed with copper (TAr. i.17.2)(Vedic.lex.) cf. ayiliron (Ta.)(DEDR 192). cf. bi_d.u alloy of iron (Tu.); iron filings or dust (Te.)(DEDR 4218). ayas, a_yasam iron (Skt.lex.) ayas metal, copper, iron (RV. iv.2.17); iron-weapon (RV. vi.3.5; TS. iv.6.7.4); ayasta_pa ironsmith (VS. xxx.14; TBr. iii.4.10); ayaspa_tra an iron-vessel (AV. viii.10.22); ayasmaya made of iron or metal (RV. v.30.15)(Vedic.lex.)

"Periplus of the Erythraean Sea notes how the pilot Hippalus 'first discovered', sometime in the first century CE, how to sail across the Indian Ocean from southern Arabia to western India using the monsoon winds.

We will demonstrate in the following paragraphs how the traders from the Indian Civilization reached southern Arabia and other Arabian Gulf regions as early as the late third millennium BCE.   A late thirteenth-century BCE ship was excavated off the southern coast of Turkey at Uluburun to the west of Cape Gelidonya.   The ship yielded the cargo of silver, tin, copper, and cobalt-blue glass ingots, ivory, ebony logs, aromatics, and edibles (oils, nuts, spices, fruits).

4.   Tin from Meluhha

A reference to itinerant metal-smiths who make arrows of metal, in the Rigveda (9.112.2) will have to be re-evaluated in the context of this evidence.

jarati_bhih os.adhi_bhih parn.ebhih s'akuna_na_m
ka_rma_ro as'mabhih dyubhih hiran.yavantam icchati_
(RV. 9.112.2)

This is a description of a smithy, perhaps an allusion to the making of copper reducing the ores.   The metalsmiths sold the products (a copper implement or copper-tipped arrow or golden ornament) to moneyed-people.

a_la_kta_ ayomukham is.u
(RV. 6.75.15): reference to poison and metal-tipped arrow.

r.s.t.i: a_sr.ukmaira_ yudha_ nara r.s.va_ r.s.t.i_h assr.aks.ata
(RV. 5.52.6): javelin thunder spear

brahman.aspatireta_ sam. karma_ra iva_dhamat
deva_na_m. pu_rvye yuge asatah sadaja_yata
(RV. 10.72.2): reference to metalsmith who blows in a furnace and makes metal objects.

kr.ti: has.tes.u kha_dis'ca kr.tis'ca
(a guard and a sword)(RV. 1.168.3)

ks.ura: yada_ te va_to anuva_ti s'oirvapteva s'mas'ru vapasi prabhu_ma
(RV. 10.142.4): With the wind at its back, fire wipes out the trees and forests and 'shaves' the land just as the barber shaves (with a razor).   Indra is asked to make the man's intellect sharp as the ks.ura, the razor, a sharp-edged weapon (RV. 8.4.16).

khanitra: khanama_nah khanitraih
(RV. 1.179.6): by the digging spade

kha_di: kha_dayo
(RV. 7.56.13): shoulder decoration, sword?

paras'u: s'is'ite paras'um. sva_yasam
(RV. 10.53.): sharpened metallic axe. paras'u was used for cutting woods and clearing forests (RV 6.3.4)

pra_ca_ gavyantah pr.thupars'avo yayuh da_s.a_ ca vr.tra_ hatama_rya_ni ca
(RV. 7.83.1): with big axes came to the east came the cow-plunderers --the da_sas as well as some a_ryas.

va_s'i_: va_s'i_ a_yasi_
(RV. 8.29.3): bronze tool-chisel, axe or adze; the va_s'i_ is made of ayas (perhaps arsenical copper).   The neolithic one was as'manmayi_ va_s'i_ (RV. 10.101.10) made of stone.   The lexeme, ayas, is used in compounds: ayahs'ipra (RV 4.37.4), ayohanuh (RV 6.71.4), ayahsirsa (RV 8.101.3)--epithets connoting the hardness of the metal (an apparent compound of copper and arsenic or tin).   The metal is also characterised by sharpness: ayaso-dhara, the sharp blade of the weapon (RV 5.30.15; 6.47.10). Agni is called ayodans.t.ra (RV 1.88.5; 10.87.2), an apparent reference to the colour of the teeth of the flames, perhaps reddish.   This is corroborated by a reference to the car seat of Mitra and Varun.a which was made of ayas and shone like gold in the rays of the sun (RV 5.62.8; YV 5.62.7).   The distinction made in Atharva Veda (AV 3.1.7; see also Maitra_yan.i Sam.hita_ 18.2.9) between ayas coloured s'ya_ma- and lohita- (i.e. black and red) is therefore, a reference to copper ore alloyed with lead and copper alloyed with tin.   Jaimini_ya Bra_hman.a (3.17.3) contrasts loha_yasa with ka_rs.n.a_yasa (called kr.s.n.a_yasa in Taittiri_ya Bra_hman.a:   The compounds demonstrate the semantics of ayas, as copper ore, which when alloyed becomes metal--loha, loha_yasa, lohita_yasa, the red-coloured metal, i.e. bronze. Va_jasneyi Sam.hita_ (18.13) elaborates a list in which ayas is contrasted with hiran.ya, loha, s'ya_ma, si_sa and tra_pu (gold, bronze, black metal (smelted copper?), lead and tin).

Ra_ma_yan.a refers to a golden image of Sita which was substituted for her during the performance by Ra_ma, of the As'vamedha sacrifice, since Sita was in exile in Va_lmi_ki's hermitage. (ka_ncani_m mana patni_m ca di_ks.a_rha_ yajn~akarman.i agrato bharatah kr.tva_ gacchatvagre maha_matih (R. Uttaraka_n.d.a sarga 91, 25).

Ja_taka of pre-Buddhist India (Cowell, F.B., ed., Ja_takas, I, p.343; III, p.93; IV, p.105; V, p.282) refer to eighteen guilds of workers, including the metalsmith who manufactured agricultural implements, weapons of war in various metals like copper, brass, bronze and iron.   Jaina canonical texts describe the processes such as smelting of ore, forging and casting. (Sikdar, J.C., 1964, Studies in the Bhagavati Sutra, Muzaffarpur, p.268; Sikdar, J.C., 1947, Jaina Canon, Bombay, p.187). Pras'na Vya_karan.a a Jaina text refers to bronze-smith, ka_m.syaka_ra (pp.193-194).   The process of casting is indicated in the Great Epic (As'vamedha Parva), comparing it to the embryonic stage of a child: yatha_ hi lohamis.yando nis.ikto bimbavigraham upaiti tadvajja_ni_hi garbhe ji_vapraves'anam (18-8): the foetus gets its soul just as the liquid red metal assumes the form of the image when poured into the mould. Arthas'a_stra notes that the loha_dhyaks.a, the superintendent of mines and metallurgy, oversaw the manufacture of copper, bronze (ka_m.sya), lead, tin, sulphurate of arsenic (ta_la), lodhra and a_raku_t.a (R. Shamasatry, 1923, Kautilya's Arthas'a_stra, Mysore, p.94 ff.) [Bha_vamis'ra's Bha_vapraka_s'a (Pu_rvaka_n.d.a 69) (Tr. by Girija Shankar Maya Shankar Shastri, Ahmedabad, Sastu Sahitya Vardhaka Karyalaya, pp.409 and 112) refers to four types of brass: pittala, a_raku_ta, a_ra and ri_ti: pittalam sya_da_ro ri_tis'ca kathyate ra_jari_tibrahmaritih kapila_ pin_gala_pi ca: when the heated alloy in the crucible turns red in colour, the brass is known as ra_jari_ti and when it assumes a yellow colour, the metal is known as brahmari_ti.

Vis.n.usam.hita_ (Pat.ala 14): lohe sikthamayi_m arca_m ka_rayitva_ mr.da_vata_m suvarn.a_di_ni sam.s'odhya vidra_vya_n:ga_ravat punah kus'alaih ka_rayed yatna_t sampu_rn.a_m sarvatoghanam: a complete wax image prepared and coated with clay may be cast as a solid one in gold or other metals properly tested and melted in the requisite temperature by experts) (C. Sivaramamurti, 1963, South Indian Bronzes, p.14).

svadhiti: ks.n.otren.eva svadhitim sam. s'is'i_tam (RV. 2.39.7): sharpen the swords/axes on the whetstone. means a sword?

Agni is called 'svadhitir-vana_na_m' (RV 9.96.6); svadhiti, the axe used for cutting trees. svadhiti and asi are referred to in the context of horse-sacrifice (RV 1.162.20) [Atharva Veda (7.41.2) describes the svadhiti, the axe as lohita, i.e. made of copper; the compound lohitayas thus would be an alloy of copper and arsenic or tin, i.e. bronze].

pavi was a weapon of Maruts and was compared with vajra (RV 1.66.10). pavi was also used as a metal tyre of the wheels of the chariots (RV 5.52.9)

svadhiti (RV 3.8.6), va_s'i_ (RV 10.53.10; 101; 10) and paras'u (RV 1.30.4; 3.53.22; 6.3.4; 7.104.21;10.28.8)were tools used by (Cognates: IE root; tek, Greco-Roman technos, Lithuanian tasyati, Church Slavic tasati, Avestan tas'a_: Homer's tekton is a worker in wood (Illiad 5.59; 6.315; 13.390); Ahura Mazda who fashions the earth is geus-tas'a_ (i.e. carpenter of the Mother-Earth: Yasna 29.1; 31.11; 44.6; 51.7). The divine counterpart of is Tvas.t.r., the creator of all forms of the universe. Vedic taks. is a reference to creative skills -- of cutting, hollowing, strapping parts and joinery -- to compose hymns (RV 5.73.1; 6.32.1; 9.97.22; 10.80.7), frame chariots (RV 1.111.1; 4.33.8; 7.32.20; 8.64.5), make armour for the gods (RV 4.34.9), carve yu_pa (RV 1.162.6; 3.8.6), make wooden vessels (RV 10.53.10; 101.10), and fashion vajra (RV 1.32.3; 52.7; 61.6; 121.3; 10.48.3; 99.1). (V.S.Pathak and Prem Sagar Chaturvedi, Antecedent stages in the evolution of metal technology, in: Vibha Tripathi (ed.), 1998, Archaeometallurgy in India, Delhi, Sharada Publishing House).

In handling metals, the skilled worker uses the process of gharma, i.e. firing the earthen vessel to harden it. The word, gharma, may refer to the boiling liquids, heat and furnace, in effect, the process of smelting of ores. RV 1.112.1 uses gharma as an attribute of Agni, indicating a blazing fire. Ajasro gharma (RV 3.26.7) may connote an inexhaustible source of heat (cf. Hindi, garam, hot).

The word may also denote a furnace or fire-place. RV 10.16.10 notes that gharma is a place where the undefiled fire is kept. Atri, the sage, threw the demons into a gharma, wherefrom he was rescued by the As'vins who covered it with cold water (RV 1.180.4). Atharva Veda (19.28) invokes, during the maha_s'a_nti ceremony called aindri_, the power of the amulet to burn the heart of the foes like a gharma. (Cognates: Church Slavic gruni_ci, to burn; Serbo-Croatian granac; Bohemian hrnek; Polish garnek; Russian gorsok; Latin furnus (oven); Greek thermos (hot). (cf. Carl Darling Buck,   1965, A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages, Chicago, Univ. of Chicago Press, 5.26).

To smelt the ore, dhma_ is the technique used, with dr.ti (bellows made of leather: RV 7.89.2) to control the intensity of the heat generated. Soma is like the shining dr.ti (RV 9.1.8). Wooden pipes also served as bellows (RV 1.85.10). It is a reference to the blowing of fire to enhance the heat generated. adha sma yasya_rcayah samyaksamyanti ghu_minah yadi_maha trito divyupa dhma_teva dhamati s'is'i_te dhma_tari_ yatha_ (RV 5.9.5). The dhma_tr. is the smelter or blower of fire; dhamati is the act of blowing the fire. The blazing fire is likened to the fire blown by a smelter in the course of smelting the ore. Just as metal is purified by the smelter, men of noble deeds purify their births (RV 4.2.17); Brahman.aspati's creative power is like that of a smith (karma_ra) producing metalling objects by smelting the ore in the fire.

S'atapatha Bra_hman.a ( refers to the process of mixing materials to make the smelting process soft and sticky or to attain firmness (sthemne): valmi_kavapa_, soil of ant-hill, vara_havihatam, soil dug-out by the boar, a_da_ra, basella cordifolia plants. Another verse ( refers to the mixing of ka_s.a_ya, resin of the parn.a or pala_s'a (butea frondosa) tree, goat-hair (ajaloma), pebble particles (s'arkara_), stone (as'ma) and ore-rust (ayorasa).Ka_tya_yana S'rautasu_tra (16.3.2) elaborates that the hard stones are first powdered and then mixed in the clay: tes.a_m cu_rn.aih; and the ki_t.a (rust -- ayorasa -- separated from the heated ore, during smelting) is mixed in the clay. Taittiri_ya A_ran.yaka (5.2.13) uses five materials: 1. potsherds from the household (gra_mya_n.a_m pa_tra_n.a_m kapa_la_h); 2. potsherds from deserted sites (armakapa_la_h); 3. pebble particles (s'arkara_); 4. goat-hair (ajaloma); and 5. hair of a black antelope (kr.s.n.a_jinasya loma).

"Arsenic alloying preceded tin alloying in West Asia. Tin alloys started in Iran only during the third millennium B.C.   Lollingite (FeAs2) samples were found in Nal (Southern Baluchistan). It is likely that arsenic might have been used both as hardener of copper and as a deoxidiser. Lead was used as a flux.

5.   Lead, tin, silver and gold

trade2.jpg (62075 bytes) The trading route through Mari on the Euphrates to Ugarit (Mediterranean Sea) and on to Minoan Crete. This may explain the presence of Harappan script inscription on tin ingots found at Haifa, Israel!

[After Markus Wafler, 'Zu Status und Lage von Taba_l', Orientalia]

"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).

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.

6.   Tin and the Development of Bronze Metallurgy.

"Early Use of Bronze. The most important metallurgical development during the Early Bronze Age was the discovery that adding tin to copper produced a far superior metal, eventually known as bronze. In its classic form, bronze has 10 percent tin and 90 percent copper. The addition of even 2 percent tin has noticeable effects upon the hardness and working properties of copper, but anything over 16 percent tin is undesirable, for a very high tin content makes copper brittle and difficult to work. Objects such as the ax head from the A cemetery at Kish (modern Tell al-Uhaimir; Early Dynastic, or ED, IIIB), with 15.5 percent tin, are probably to be assessed as being of early, experimental alloys.

"The historical development of bronze metallurgy has been difficult to document, and locating ancient sources of tin has proved to be an even more intractable problem.   The cache of human figurines from Tell Judeidah (northern Syria), the excavators' date of about 3000 (transition Amuq G-H) still seems the most probable.   A pin from Tepe Gawra VIII (early third millennium) said to have 5.6 percent tin unfortunately can no longer be located, but four artifacts from the Y cemetary at Kish, of ED I date, proved to have more than 2 percent tin.   These are the earliest examples of bronze from Mesopotamia. One of these objects, a spouted jar, has 6.24 percent tin.  

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.

"Sources of Tin and the Tin Trade.   The tin was brought to Asshur from some point further east, most likely Afghanistan. The Assyrian merchants purchased the tin for reshipment, by donkey caravan, and sale (at a 100 percent markup) in Anatloia.   The Old Assyrian tin trade was on a large scale and enriched three generations of Old Assyrian merchant families.  

"Tin exists in nature in the form of cassiterite, an oxide of tin. The cassiterite most likely utilized by Bronze Age metal workers was alluvial or placer cassiterite, popularly known as tin-stone and present as nuggets or pebbles in the beds of streams.   Alluvial cassiterite was collected by panning the bed of a stream, much like the recovery of alluvial gold.   Gold and tin often occur within the same general area as, for example, in the Eastern (Arabian) Desert of Egypt. Ancient Sardis, the region of the Tmolus (modern Boz Dag) mountain range and the Pactolus River, was famous as an ancient source of alluvial gold, the source of wealth for Croesus, king of Lydia, but no placer cassiterite has been documented from Anatolia.  

"The similarity in geological history suggests a possible historical connection between tin and gold, with the two metals first being used at about the same time. This seems to be exactly what happened (except for the extensive use of gold in a few of the burials from the site of Varna, on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria, dating to the second half of the fifth millennium, and the presence of eight massive, circular objects of gold and electrum in a Chalcolithic cave deposit of the fourth millennium at Nahal Qanah in Israel).

"Bronze tools, implements, and weapons and gold jewelry appear together in the Royal Cemetery of Ur, the royal shaft graves of Alaca Huyuk, and the various treasures (really hoards) of Troy II.   The same is true for the bronze metallurgy and gold jewelry of Poliochni V (yellow). All this begins in the twenty-sixth century BCE, the date of the Royal Cemetery, and continues over the next few centuries down to about 2200 BCE. As indicated above, the possibility of tin, gold, and lapis lazuli coming into Mesopotamia from Afghanistan is certainly an attractive one. Of these three raw materials, however, we can be sure of the provenance of only one. Most, if not all, of the lapis lazuli used by the Sumerians came from northeast Afghanistan, from the Sar-i Sang mines in the region of Badakhshan.   As for tin and gold, it can only be said that both metals are present in significant quantities in Afghanistan and in alluvial form. The recovery of fine gold particles from streams, making use of the woolly fleece of sheep (the famous Golden Fleece of Greek legend), was still practiced in Afghanistan well into the twentieth century.

It will be argued further, elsewhere (deciphering Soma as Electrum), that the historical between the use of tin and gold is exemplified by the metallurgical processes delineated by the artefacts of the civilization and those described in the  R.gveda -- both processes occurring principally on hundreds of sites on the banks of the River Sarasvati_.

"Mari and the Tin Trade.   the texts from Mari (Tell Hariri), dating mainly to the first half ot the eighteenth century BCE.   (tin) came to Mari through Elam, from Susa and Anshan (now identified with the Central Iranian site of Tepe Malyan), and Elamites played a major role in the trade, especially a man named Kuyaya. Certain merchants from Mari were also heavily involved in the tin trade with Elam, among them a merchant named Ishkhi-Dagan (the two appear together in ARM 23 555). The tin came to Mari in the form of ingots (Akkadian le_'u) that weighed about ten pounds each. It is possible to obtain some idea of the relative value of this tin, for a number of the Mari texts provide a tin:silver ratio of 10:1 (the most common ratio; a few texts give ratios from 8:1 to 15:1). This is to be compared with isolated referenced to a tin:gold ratio (48:1), a confusing silver:gold ratio of 4:1 as well as 2:1, and a lead:silver ratio (1200:1). The usual copper:silver ratio at Mari was 180:1 for unrefined 'mountain' copper, with refined (litarally 'washed') copper being valued at 150:1. This means that tin was usually from fifteen to eighteen times more valuable than copper.   In later texts from Nuzi (fifteenth century BCE) goods were priced in amounts of tin. An ox cost thirty-six minas of tin; an ass, twenty-four minas. During the Middle Assyrian period tin seems to have functioned as the monetary standard (temporarily replacing the customary silver). Plots of land were purchased with tin.  

INGOT: Some Indic Lexemes and Homonyms (used for logographs of the script)
(Akkadian: le_'u)
3833.To melt: li_ melt; lau absorption, devotion (H.); laya absorption (Skt.)(CDIAL 10962). ri_ melt, flow (Skt.); ri_yate_ melts, flows (RV.); ri_n.a melted (Skt.); riik to leak (of contents), drip; rieik to leak (of vessels), let drip (Kho.); rijan.u to water, to irrigate; to melt (S.); ri_n.a leaked, dripped (Pkt.); runna_ pret. of ren.ava_ (Si.)(CDIAL 10753). cf. re_n.i mud (Pkt.); ren.i_ ingot (L.)(CDIAL 10639). aliyuka to melt, dissolve (as salt, heart); alika, aliyikka to melt; aliccal, alivu melting, compassion; ali-ppun.n.u foul ulcer (Ma.); ali- (aliv-, alij-) to dissolve; (alip-, alic-) to dissolve (Kod..); aliyuni to dissolve, decay; eliyuni, e_luni to melt (as any soft substance, butter, lead etc.); elipuni, elpuni, e_la_vuni id. (Tu.)(DEDR 250). Image: to be delivered of a child: allna_ to become clear (of liquids left undisturbed)(Kur.); le to get clear (as water when left undisturbed)(Malt.); alga tidy, clear; alga a_va to be tidy, clear, be delivered of a child (Kui)(DEDR 261). Fluids: al.akam water (Ta.); al.aka, al.l.aka neither thick nor thin, as applied to fluids (Ka.); anuku semiliquid, semifluid (Te.)(DEDR 298). cf. al.acu to agitate (liquid)(Ka.)(DEDR 294).

5516.Image: flow, current: raya the stream of a river, current; speed, velocity (Ka.Skt.)(Ka.lex.) re_tas a flow, current (Vedic); ri_ti moving, flowing; motion, course; a stream, river (Skt.)(Skt.lex.) raya stream, current (MBh.); current, speed (Pali.Pkt.); rava speed (Pali); ra sediment left by river after inundation (S.); rau small stream from the mountains, course or flow of river (P.); current, stream, torrent, line (H.); rai long narrow channel made for flow of water from higher level (Or.)(CDIAL 10638). cf. re_n.i mud (Pkt.); ren.i_ ingot (L.); ingot of gold or silver (P.); ren. cement for metallic objects (G.); ravan.aka a filter (BHSkt.)(CDIAL 10639). ri_n. name of a deserted channel of the river Jhelam (L.)(CDIAL 10750). re_ve the Narmada_ river (Ka.lex.) ri_ti stream (RV.); ri_i path, fashion (Pkt.); ria shallow narrow channel for catching fish in dry season (Or.); ri_ method, manner (G.)(CDIAL 10751). reju, rejo irrigation, first watering before sowing (S.)(CDIAL 10820). ri_ti dropping, flowing; a course; ri_n.a dropping, trickling, oozing, distilling, flowing (Ka.lex.)

"The cuneiform archives contain a number of 'recipe' texts, giving the amounts of coper and tin used to make specified amounts of bronze. One of the earlist such texts, from Palace G at Ebla, records that 3 minas, 20 shekels of tin were alloyed with 30 minas of copper to produce 200 objects of bronze, each weighing 10 shekels. In other words, 200 shekels of tin were mixed with 1,800 shekels of copper to produce 2,000 shekels of a 10 percent tin-bronze. In one Mari text 20 shekels of tin were added to 170 shekels of refined copper from Teima at the rate of 1:8, to produce 190 shekels of bronze for a key (to the lock of a city gate).   This means that smiths at Mari were working with the metals themselves--with copper and tin--not with ores or minerals. That is no smelting was being carried out in the vicinity of the Mari palace.  

"At the other end of the Mari trade network, the texts record that tin stored at Mari was transhipped to various cities in the Levant, from Karkamish in the north to Hazor in the south. This we learn from a remarkable tin itinerary that concludes with the recording of '1 (+) minas of tin to the Cretan; 1/3 mina of tin to the translator, chief (merch)ant among the Cretans; (dispensed) at Ugarit.   ' (ARM 23 556). This striking passage indicates that there were Minoan merchants (the text uses the name Kaptaru, generally taken to designate the island of Crete) doing business (perhaps also residing) at Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra) toward the beginning of the Old Palace period in Crete. Furthermore, the Minoan merchants seem to have had a translator (Akkadian, targamannum; the origin of the common European 'dragoman') who was also the leader of the Minoans doing business at Ugarit. Such translators are known from other periods of Mesopotamian history. We have the cylinder seal of a Sargonic official who served as translator for the Melukkha merchants who came to Agade from the Indus Valley, perhaps bringing with them the tin of Melukkha, a commodity mentioned in one of the statue inscriptions of Gudea, ruler of Lagash. A Mari text, dated to the ninth year of the reign of Zimri-Lim, refers to the construction of a 'small Kaptaru boat', perhaps to be taken as a model ship for ritual purposes or as the designation of a ship built for sailing to Crete. A possible parallel for this would be the Egyptian references to Byblos ships (for sailing to the ancien Syrian port of Byblos (modern Jubayl) and Keftiu ships (built for sailing to Crete).  

tiningotegypt.jpg (297736 bytes)

"Bronze certainly was being produced in Middle Minoan Crete, with production undergoing a great expansion during the Late Bronze Age, as it did on the Greek mainland.   The problem is that, at present, no satisfactory analytical method for studying the provenance of tin has been discovered." (James D. Muhly, 1995, Mining and Metalwork in Ancient Western Asia, in: Jack M. Sasson, ed. 1995, Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, Vol. III, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, pp.1501-1521).

D.K. Chakrabari (1979, The problem of tin in early India--a preliminary survey, in: Man and Environment, Vol. 3, pp.61-74) opines that during the pre-Harappan and Harappan periods, the main supply of tin was from the western regions: Khorasan and the area between Bukhara and Samarkand. The ancient tin mines in the Kara Dagh District in NW Iran and in the modern Afghan-Iranian Seistan could have been possible sources. Harappan metal-smiths used to conserve tin by storing and re-using scrap pieces of bronze, making low-tin alloys and substituting tin by arsenic. It is possible that some of the imported tin (like lapis lazuli) was exported to Mesopotamia. A cylinder seal of Gudea of Lagash (2143-2124 B.C.) read: "copper, tin, blocks of lapis lazuli-- bright carnelian from the land of Meluhha." (Muhly, J.D., 1976, Copper and Tin, Hamden, Archon Books, pp.306-7). Trapu is tin in the Atharva Veda (11, 8.7-8: s'ya_mamayah asya ma_m.sa_ni lohitamasya lohitam; trapu bhasma haritam varn.ah pus.karamasya gandhah) and van:ga is also tin with the possible association of chalcolithic cultures in Bengal (2nd millennium B.C.) with possible links with the culture of Thailand of the same period (Solheim, W.C., Sciene, Vol. 157, p.896).  Hegde suggests the possibility that water-concentrated placer deposits referred to as 'stream tin' (alluvial cassiterite or mineral tin) in the proximity of Aravalli and Chota Nagpur Hills might have also been the sources of tin.

KTM Hegde and Ericson, J.E., 1985, Ancient Indian Copper Smelting Furnaces, in: Furnaces and Smelting Technology in Antiquity, ed. P.T. Craddock, Occasional Paper No. 48, British Museum, London, pp.59-67: The survey covered six ancient copper ore mining and smelting sites in the Aravalli (Arbuda) hills extending over a thousand kms.: Khetri and Kho Dariba in NE, Kankaria and Piplawas in the Central part and Ambaji in SW.. A large majority of mine-pits measure 7-8 metres in dia. and 3-4 metres deep showing evidence of fire-treating of the host rocks on the mine walls to widen rock joints. The evidene indicated probable mining in the chalcolithic period. Timber supports recovered from a gallery at a depth of 120 metres at Rajpura-Dariba mines in Udaipur District were radio-carbon dated to 3120+_ 160 years before the present (1987). This correlates with the zinc-containing copper artefacts of Atran~jikhera. Finely crushed ore was concentrated by gravity separation at the smelting sites which were invariably close to the banks of hill streams. This helped separate gangue from the ore. Smelting charge was by crushed quartz equal to the weight of the ore, crushed charcoal twice the weight of the ore. Furnace walls showed evidence of residues of small, hand-made, fistfuls of spherical lumps. The smelter furnace was a small, crucible-shaped, clay-walled, slag-tapping deice worked on forced draught from bellows; 'this simple furnace appears to have been continuously used in India over the millennia without little innovation.' It would appear that the facilities in the metropolis of the civilization on the banks of Sarasvati and Sindhu were only purification and fabrication facilities with limited or no smelting operations. Bun-shaped copper ingots from Ganeshwar taken through the riverine routes were perhaps carried by itinerant metal-smiths of the copper-hoard culture and fabricated in cities like Mohenjodaro and Harappa to meet the specifications of the consumers of this doab or the Tigris-Euphrates doab.

trade1.jpg (52013 bytes)[After Potts, 1995] The body of water called the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea were referred to by Herodotus as the Erythraean Sea.

Dilmun is identified with Bahrain, Magan with Oman and Melukkha with the Indian Civilization. Sargon of Akkad boasts that ships from Dilmun, Magan and Melukkha docked at the quay of his capital Akkad. This inscription affirs that Melukkha was accessible by the sea-route, through the Arabian gulf.

There is significant evidence for the presence of people and goods from and frequent interaction with the Indian Civilization in the Mesopotamian and Gulf areas. There is, however, little evidence of a Sumerian, Akkadian or Babylonian presence in India.

Language of the Indian Civilization (3rd millennium)

Akkadian or Sumerian speaker certainly needed a Melukkha translator (a cylinder seal states that Shu-ilishu was a Melukkha translator), an indication that the language of the Indian civilization was unintelligible to an Akkadian or Sumerian.

There is also evidence for interaction, during the late third and early millennia, with the bronze age Oxus civilization of Central Asia (Turkmenistan, northern Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan).

Mesopotamia obtained precious and base metals, semiprecious stones, woods, shells, ivory and aromatics from distant lands; many of these items were obtained in trade with Dilmun, Magan and Melukkha (Meluhha) -- all three centres which were in contact with and influenced by the Indian Bronze Age Civilization. In the 17th century BC, the Neo-Assyrian king Esarhaddon called himself, 'king of the kings of Dilmun, Magan, and Melukkha'. The Sumerian myth Enki and the World Order has Enki exclaiming: 'Let the magilum-boats of Melukkha transport gold and silver for exchange!' 

Carnelian is a unique product of the Indian Civilization; many beads are found decorated, using a process of chemical etching, with white bands

Enki and Ninkhursag (lines 1-9, Tr. by B. Alster) has references to the products of Melukkha: 'The land Tukrish shall transport gold from Kharali, lapis lazuli, and bright.   to you. The land Melukkha shall bring carnelian, desirable and precious, sissoo-wood from Magan, excellent mangroves, on big-ships! The land Markhashi will (bring) precious stones, dus'ia-stones, (to hand) on the breast, mighty, diorite-stones, u-stones, s'umin-stones to you!'

Lipshur litanies state: 'Melukkha.   is the land of carnelian' (Sumerian NA4.GUG, Akkadian sa_mtu).

Dilmun (Bahrain) yielded circular stamp seal. That the seal was used in economic transactions is shown by the find at Susa (1st half of 2nd millennium), of a tablet bearing seal impression: to record receipt for goods, inlcuding the minas of copper (about eleven pounds or five kilograms). Even ca. 1750 (king Samsu-iluna) records textual evidence of Dilmun copper and copper from Alashiya (Cyprus). Copper was not indigenous to Dilmun and was obtained from further east, perhaps from Melukkha.

A merchant named Lu-Enlilla (Ur III period ca. 2100-2000) is stated in cuneiform texts to have acquired copper, ochre, semiprecious stones and ivory in Magan; it is likely that the stones and ivory were obtained from further east, perhaps from Melukkha. In Ras al-Janyz, in the southeast coast of Oman, a large quantity of bitumen was found in a mud-brick storeroom; the surmise is that the bitumen was used to caulk reed or wooden boats. This find also points to a significant presence of traders from the Indian civilization, during the late third and early second millennium, in Magan (Oman).

In the old Akkadian and Ur III periods (last 3rd of the 3rd millennium), black wood (perhaps ebony), gold, ivory and carnelian were obtained from Melukkha. Gudea acquired lapis lazuli from Melukkha; this indicates that Melukkha was the trading centre which acquired the stone from Badakshan in Afghanistan.

The city-state of Lagash (ca. 2060: king Shulgi) records a toponym about the presence of a 'Melukkhan village'. (A. Parpola and S. Parpola, 1975, On the relationship of the Sumerian Toponym Meluhha and Sanskrit Mleccha, Studia Orientalia 46). The word 'Melukkha' also appears, occasionally, as a personal name in cuneiform texts of the Old Akkadian and Ur III periods. Seals of the Indian civilization have been found in Mesopotamia and Iran at Kish (modern Tell Ingharra), Ur, Tell Asmar, Nippur (modern Nuffar), and Susa; a shard with an inscription has been found at Ras al-Junayz, the southeastern extremity of the Oman Peninsula; seal impressions of the civilization have been found at Umma (Tell Jokha) and Tepe Yahya; pottery of the civilization has been found at Ras al-Junayz, Asimah, Maysar, Hili 8, Tell Abraq -- in Oman and United Arab Emirates. Susa, Qalat al-Bahrain, Shimal (Ras al-Khaimah) and Tell Abraq (Umm al-Qaiwain) -- sites around the Arabian Gulf -- have yielded cubical weights of banded chert (unit weight: 13.63 grams) which are the hall-mark of the civilization.

"A lengthy prehistoric sequence has been established at the important site of Mehrgarh in Pakistani Baluchistan, where an aceramic occupation beginning around 7000 BCE that formed the foundation for the later ceramic Neolithis and Chalcolithic cultures in the region has recently been documented. Despite innovations and changes in the prehistoric sequence of the greater Indus Valley, thee is an essential thread of unity and a strong stamp of cultural identity throughout that underscores the essentially indigenous, deeply rooted nature of Indian civilization. While points of contact with other regions are attested, they can hardly have accounted for the strength and individuality of civilization in the subcontinent." (Potts, 1995, p.1457).

Melukkha may be comparable to Pali milakkha or Sanskrit mleccha. In Pali, Milakkha also means, 'copper'.

Dialects of the Mleccha

Copper-smelting had to occur on the outskirts of a village. Hence, the semantic equivalence of milakkha as copper.

Mleccha in Pali is milakkha or milakkhu to describe those who dwell on the outskirts of a village. (Shendge, Malati, 1977, The civilized demons: the Harappans in Rigveda, Abhinav Publications). A milakkhu is disconnected from va_c and does not speak Vedic; he spoke Prakrt. " na a_rya_ mlecchanti bha_s.a_bhir ma_yaya_ na caranty uta: aryas do not speak with crude dialects like mlecchas, nor do they behave with duplicity (MBh. 2.53.8). a dear friend of Vidura who was a professional excavator is sent by Vidura to help the Pa_n.d.avas in confinement; this friend of Vidura has a conversation with Yudhisthira, the eldest Pa_n.d.ava: "kr.s.n.apakse caturdasyām rātrāv asya purocanah, bhavanasya tava dvāri pradāsyati hutāsanam, mātrā saha pradagdhavyāh pa_n.d.avāh purus.ars.abhāh, iti vyavasitam pārtha dha_rtara_s.t.ra_sya me šrutam, kiņcic ca vidurenkoto mleccha-vācāsi pa_n.d.ava, tyayā ca tat tathety uktam etad visvāsa on the fourteenth evening of the dark fortnight, Purocana will put fire in the door of your house. ‘The Pandavas are leaders of the people, and they are to be burned to death with their mother.’ This, Pa_rtha (Yudhis.t.ira), is the determined plan of Dhr.tara_s.t.ra’s son, as I have heard it. When you were leaving the city, Vidura spoke a few words to you in the dialect of the mlecchas, and you replied to him, ‘So be it’. I say this to gain your trust.(MBh. 1.135.4-6). This passage shows that there were two Aryans distinguished by language and ethnicity, Yudhis.t.ra and Vidura. Both are aryas, who could speak mlecchas’ language; Dhr.tara_s.t.ra and his people are NOT aryas only because of their behaviour.

Melakkha, island-dwellers

According to the great epic, Mlecchas lived on islands: "sa sarva_n mleccha nr.patin sa_gara dvi_pa va_sinah, aram a_ha_ryām āsa ratna_ni vividha_ni ca, andana aguru vastra_n.i man.i muktam anuttamam, ka_ņcanam rajatam vajram vidrumam ca maha_ dhanam: (Bhima) arranged for all the mleccha kings, who dwell on the ocean islands, to bring varieties of gems, sandalwood, aloe, garments, and incomparable jewels and pearls, gold, silver, diamonds, and extremely valuable coral… great wealth." (MBh. 2.27.25-26).

A series of articles and counters had appeared in the Journal of the Economic and social history of the Orient, Vol.XXI, Pt.II, Elizabeth C.L. During Caspers and A. Govindankutty countering R.Thapar's dravidian hypothesis for the locations of Meluhha, Dilmun and Makan; Thapar's A Possible identification of Meluhha, Dilmun, and Makan appeared in the journal Vol. XVIII, Part I locating these on India's west coast. Bh. Krishnamurthy defended Thapar on linguistic grounds in Vol. XXVI, Pt. II: *mel-u-kku =3D highland, west; *teLmaN (=3D pure earth) ~ dilmun; *makant =3D male child (Skt. vi_ra =3D male offspring. [cf. K. Karttunen (1989). India in Early Greek Literature. Helsinki, Finnish Oriental Society. Studia Orientalia. Vol.65. 293 pages. ISBN 951-9380-10-8, pp.11 ff et passim. Asko Parpola (1975a). Isolation and tentative interpretation of a toponym in the Harappan inscriptions. Le dechiffrement des ecritures et des langues. Colloque du XXXIXe congres des orientalistes, Paris Juillet 1973. Paris, Le dechiffrement des ecritures et des langues. Colloque du XXXIXe congres des orientalistes, Paris Juillet 1973. 121-143 and Asko Parpola (1975b). "India's Name in Early Foreign Sources." Sri Venkateswara University Oriental Journal, Tirupati, 18: 9-19.]

Mleccha trade was first mentioned by Sargon of Akkad (Mesopotamia 2370 B.C.) who stated that boats from Dilmun, Magan and Meluhha came to the quay of Akkad (Hirsch, H., 1963, Die Inschriften der Konige Von Agade, Afo, 20, pp.37-38; Leemans, W.F., 1960, Foreign Trade in the Old Babylonian Period, p.164; Oppenheim, A.L., 1954, The seafaring merchants of Ur, JAOS, 74, pp.6-17). The Mesopotamian imports from Meluhha were: woods, copper (ayas), gold, silver, carnelina, cotton. Gudea sent expeditions in 2200 B.C. to Makkan and Meluhha in search of hard wood. Seal impression with the cotton cloth from Umma (Scheil, V., 1925, Un Nouvea Sceau Hindou Pseudo-Sumerian, RA, 22/3, pp.55-56) and cotton cloth piece stuck to the base of a silver vase from Mohenjodaro (Wheeler,  R.E.M., 1965, Indus Civilization) are indicative evidence. Babylonian and Greek names for cotton were: sind, sindon. This is an apparent reference to the cotton produced in the black cotton soils of Sind and Gujarat.

Milakku, Meluhha and copper

"Gordon Childe refers to the 'relatively large amount of social labour' expended in the extraction and distribution of copper and tin', the possession of which, in the form of bronze weaponry, 'consolidated the positions of war-chiefs and conquering aristocracies' (Childe 1941: 133).   With the publication of J.D. Muhly's monumental Copper and Tin in 1973 (Muhly 1973: 155-535; cf. 1976: 77-136) an enormous amount of data on copper previously scattered throughout the scholarly literature became easily accessible.   cuneiform texts consistently distinguish refined (urudu-luh-ha) [cf. loha = red, later metal (Skt.)] from unrefined copper (urudu) strongly suggests that it was matte (impure mixture of copper and copper sulphide) and not refined copper that was often imported into the country. Old Assyrian texts concerned with the import of copper from Anatolia distinguish urudu from urudu-sig, the latter term appearing when written phonetically as dammuqum, 'fine, good' (CAD D: 180, s.v. dummuqu), and this suggests that it is not just 'fine quality' but actually 'refined' copper that is in question.   TIN. In antiquity tin (Sum. nagga/[AN.NA], Akk. annaku) was important, not in its own right, but as an additive to copper in the production of the alloy bronze (Sum. sabar, Akk. siparru) (Joannes 1993: 97-8).   In some cases, ancient recipes call for a ratio of tin to copper as high as 1: 6 or 16.6 per cent, while other texts speak of a 1:8 ratio or 12.5 per cent (Joannes 1993: 104).   'there is little or no tin bronze' in Western Asia before c. 3000 B.C. (Muhly 1977: 76; cf. Muhly 1983:9). The presence of at least four tin-bronzes in the Early Dynastic I period.   Y-Cemetery at Kish signals the first appearance of tin-bronze in southern Mesopotamia.   arsenical copper continued in use at sites like Tepe Gawra, Fara, Kheit Qasim and Ur (Muhly 1993: 129). By the time of the Royal Cemetery at Ur (Early Dynastic IIIa), according to M.Muller-Karpe, 'tin-bronze had become the dominant alloy' (Muller-Karpe 1991: 111) in Southern Mesopotamia.   Gudea of Lagash says he received tin from Meluhha.   and in the Old Babylonian period it was imported to Mari from Elam.   Abhidha_na Cinta_man.i of Hemachandra states that mleccha and mleccha-mukha are two of the twelve names for copper: ta_mram (IV.105-6: ta_mram mlecchamukham s'ulvam rakt tam dvas.t.amudumbaram;
mlecchas'a_varabheda_khyam markata_syam  kani_yasam; brahmavarddhanam varis.t.ham
si_santu si_sapatrakam). Theraga_tha_ in Pali refers to a banner which was dyed the colour of copper: milakkhurajanam (The Thera andTheriga_tha_, PTS, verse 965: milakkhurajanam rattam garahanta_ sakam dhajam; tithiya_nam dhajam keci dha_ressanty avada_takam; K.R.Norman, tr., Theraga_tha_: Finding fault with their own banner which is dyed the colour of copper, some will wear the white banner of sectarians).[cf. Asko and Simo Parpola, On the relationship of the Sumerian Toponym Meluhha and Sanskrit Mleccha, Studia Orientalia, vol. 46, 1975, pp.205-38).

trade3.jpg (86572 bytes)Mesopotamia, Elam, Bactria.  

Frankincense and myrrh from the land of Punt and gold from Ophir
"The only region to which the Egyptian pharaohs seem to have regularly sent expeditions by sea was the land called Punt (pwnt). It was here that the Egyptians acquired their frankincense (sntr) and myrrh ('ntjw, a word later used to describe aromatics in general), the latter commodity being of particular importance because of its employment in the process of embalming. Expeditions to Punt may have begun as early as the reign of Sahure (Fifth Dynasty, circa 2475), the twelfth year of whose reign no less than eighty thousand units -- the exact unit size is uncertain -- of myrrh from Punt were received, according to the Palermo Stone.   Punt seems to have been reached by closely following the western shores of the Red Sea, and thence bringing the acquired goods overland through the Wadis Gasus and hammamat before sending them down the Nile to their final destinations. A high official of Sankhkare Mentuhotep II (Eleventh Dynasty, circa 1950) named Henenu left an inscription on a rock face in the Wadi Hammamat in which he declared that he had been sent out to build a ship intended to bring frankincense back from Punt.   Without doubt the most famous testimony of the Egyptian Punt expeditions, however, is preserved on the temple relief of Dayr al-Bahri, where five ships sent to Punt by Queen Hatshepsut (circa 1478/72-1458) are depicted in great detail.   In addition to frankincense and myrrh, a number of other commodities were acquired in Punt, including gold, electrum, slaves, ebony, ivory, baboons, monkeys, leopard or panther skins, eye paint, and various gums and resins.   Hatshepsut's reliefs show no fewer than thirty-one 'ntjw trees that had been brought back from Punt. Ramesses II (circa 1279-1213), moreover, boasted in his temple reliefs at Abydos of having planted many gardens with trees and plants from Punt, while Ramesses III (circa 1187-1156) says specifically that he planted frankincense trees at Thebes and both frankincense and myrrh trees (Boswellia sacra or Commiphora myrrha) at Memphis (Mit Rahina).  

"Solomon (circa 973-933) and Hiram of Tyre together attempted to reach Ophir, a land has been called the California of the biblical world because of its gold resources. In 1 Kings 9: 26-28, we are told, 'And king Solomon made a navy of ships in Ezion-geber (modern Tell al-Khalayfa at the head of the Gulf of 'Aqaba), which is beside Elath on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom. And Hiram sent in the navy his servants, shipmen that had knowledge of the sea, with the servants of Solomon. And they came to Ophir, and fetched from there gold, four hundred and twenty talents, and brought it to king Solomon.' Elsewhere we are told that Hiram's own navy returned not only with gold but with precious stones and many almug trees." (Potts, 1995, p.1459-1461).

The location of Punt is suggested to be Somalia or eastern Sudan or northeastern Ethiopia and the location of Ophir somewhere in or near Arabia or Sofa on the east coast of Africa.

It should, howeve, be noted that Eusebius Pamphili (263-339 CE) and later Hiernonymus (Saint Jerome, 348-420), identify So_pheira as a mountain in India.

Alternately, 'Ophir', Sophir or Sauvira may be located in the Gulf of Khambat (near Lothal) and brought back gold, silver, ivory and peacocks.

Homeric times refer to tin along with ivory coming from India (V. Ball, 1880, A geologist's contribution to the History of Ancient India, in: Journal of Royal Geological Society of Ireland, Vol. 5, Part 3, 1879-89, Edinburgh, pp.215-63). Ball reiterates Lassen's comment that the Greek word kassiteros was derived from kastira whereas Bevan feels (E.J. Rapson ed., 1921, The Cambridge History of India, Vol. I, Delhi, Indian Edn., S. Chand and Co., p.351) that kastira was derived from kassiteros. Such a controversy also existed about a_raku_t.a in Sanskrit and oreichalkos in Greek ('mountain copper') which refer to brass. Pliny called this aurichalcum or golden copper (since brass is yellow) )(Pliny, Naturalis Historia, 34.2 and 37.44).

Monier-Williams' lexicon suggests that the root for kastira was ka_ns (to shine). There is a possibility that the root might have yielded kan:sa_ which means bronze or copper-tin alloy. (AV, 10.10.5: s'atam. kan:sa_h indicating the possible use of the metal as an exchange unit).

[See notes on the Land of Punt and uses of resin of Shorea Robusta at:]

[The map and notes on Mesopotamian/Egyptian contacts are based on: D.T.Potts, 1995, Distant Shores: ancient near eastern trae with south Asia and northeast Africa, pp.1451-1463, in: Jack M. Sasson, ed. 1995, Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, Vol. III, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons].

See also:


Metal to which was attached a great price

egyptmetals1.jpg (147132 bytes)Painting on the wall of the passage in the tomb of Rekh-mi-Re (Wise of God), ca. 1470-1445 BC at Thabes; porters carry metal ingots; one carries on his shoulder an ox-hide ingot of copper; following two porters carry two baskets containing oblong ingots. The accompanying text says: 'bringing Asiatic copper which his Majesty carried off from his (Syrian) victory in the land of Retenu in order to cast two doors of the temple of Amun.' (After Plate LIII, Norman de Garis Davies, 1943, The Tomb of Rekh-mi-Re at Thebes, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Davies notes that temple doors were made of copper in the mixture of six parts to one part; it is likely that the one part refers to tin). Expounding on the reference to Asiatic copper in this text, Harris noted that it referred to a special copper alloy, and its notably light colour could indicate a high tin content. (Harris, J.R., Lexicographical Studies in Ancient Egyptian Minerals, 1961, Deutsche Akademie de Wissenschaften zu Berlin Institut fur Orientforshung). Lepsius described it as a 'variety to which was attached a great price.' (Harris, 1961, p.57).

Euphrates the copper river or URUDU and Tin from Meluhha

"A copper trade down the Euphrates is extremely ancient; the river's original name was Urudu or 'copper river'. (Hawkes, J. (ed.), 1977, The First Civilizations, London, Pelican: 159, 167-8).   The whole purpose of sending Assyrian merchants to Anatolia was to ensure a steady supply of Anatolian silver and some gold. In exchange they gave cloth and tin, 'transported by caravans of black donkeys bred in Assyria'. They made a profit on the cloth of 100% and on the tin of 75-100%. The quantities traded could be considerable; a cargo of 410 talents of tin (more than 12 t) is once mentioned, though for some curious reason tin prices are never recorded. Trade with Kanesh continued until ca. 1757 BC when Hammurabi of Babylon destroyed Mari (900 km. up the Euphrates) and a period of wars followed which reduced 'central Anatolia, once rich, to a land of ruins'. The Kanesh tablets give no indicatin of where Assyrian tin came from.   The texts from Mari show a way out of the difficulty by also recording tin being shipped up the Euphrates, presumably from the Persian Gulf, pointing to a distant origin involving maritime trade.   The Arab geographer Muqadasi stated that tin occurred at Hamadan, 560 km south-west of Tehran. As Muhly wrote, 'a mineral zone running roughly from Hamadan to Tabriz seems to fit all the evidence for the Near Eastern tin trade'. (Muhly, J.D., 1973, Copper and Tin: the distribution of mineral resources and the nature of the metals trade in the Bronze Age, Hamden, Connecticut, Archon Books, p.409).  

"Tin from 'Meluhha'.   According to the Larsa texts, merchants were there (in Mari and Larsa) to purchase copper and tin: the copper came from Magan in Oman, via Tilmun (Bahrain), but the origin of the tin is left in question. Tin mines in north-west Iran or the Transcaucasus are highly unlikely. Fortunately, there is evidence for another tin source in texts from Lagash. Lagash, about 50 km east of Larsa, was of minor importance except under the governorship of Gudea (ca. 2143-2124 BC). His inscriptions indicate extensive trade: gold from Cilicia in Anatolia, marble from Amurra in Syria, and cedar wood from the Amanus Mountains between these two countries, while up through the Persian Gulf or 'Southern Sea' came more timber, porphyry (strictly a purplish rock), lapis lazuli and tin. (Burney, 1977, 86; Muhly, 1973, 306-7, 449 note 542; Muhly, J.D., 1973, Tin trade routes of the Bronze Age, Scientific American, 1973, 61, 404-13). One inscription has been translated:

Copper and tin, blocks of lapis lazuli and ku ne (meaning unknown), bright carnelian from Meluhha.

"This is the only reference to tin from Meluhha.   either Meluhha was a name vague enough to embrace Badakhshan (the northernmost province of Afghanistan) as well as some portion of the Indian subcontinent including the Indus valley, or 'tin from Meluhha' means that the metal came from some port in Meluhha -- just as 'copper from Tilmun' means copper from elsewhere shipped through the island of Bahrain. Whichever interpretation is correct, the result is the same. Tin must have come from somewhere in India, or from elsewhere along a trade route down the Indus valley. India is not without its tin locations, rare though they are.   The largest deposits in India proper are in the Hazaribagh district of Bihar. 'Old workings' are said to exist.   (Wheeler, R.E.M., 1953, The Indus Civilization, CUP, 58).   Tin bronzes from Gujarat are at the southernmost limit of Indus influence. The copper could have come from Rajasthan, though copper ingots at the port of Lothal, at the head of the Gulf of Cambay, suggest imports from Oman or some other Near Eastern copper mining district. Tin supplying Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, most famous of the Indus cities, may have been sent overland to Lothal for export, though the scarcity of tin in the Indus cities makes this idea unconvincing.

"At Harappa, three copper alloys were used in the period 2500-2000 BC: copper and up to 2% nickel; copper and up to 5% nickel; copper with ca. 10% tin and a trace of arsenic. Ingots of tin as well as of copper were found at Harappa. (Lamberg-Karlovsky, C.C., 1967, Archaeology and metallurgy in prehistoric Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, American Anthropologist, 1967, 69, 145-62). The rarity of the metal is seen at Mohenjo-daro where, of 64 artifacts examined, only nine were of tin bronze. (Tylecote, R.F., 1976, A History of Metallurgy, The Metals Society, p.11). Ingots of tin bronze have also been found at Chanhu-daro. Yet in spite of its scarcity, tin bronze was widely used. Its occasional abundance and, in the case of the bronzes from Luristan in southern Iran, the high quality of the tin bronzes produced, equally underline the fact that rich source of tin existed somewhere.  

"The archaeological evidence from Afghanistan is not unequivocal.   What is surprising is the discovery in 1962 of corroded pieces of sheet metal bearing traces of an embossed design and made of a low tin content bronze (5.15%).   The uncorroded metal is thought to have contained nearer 7% tin. (Caley, E.R., 1972, Results of an examination of fragments of corroded metal from the 1962 excavation at Snake Cave, Afghanistan, Trans. American Phil. Soc., New Ser. , 62, 43-84). These fragments came from the deepest level in the Snake Cave, contemporary with the earliest occupation dated by 14C to around 5487 and 5291 BC. (Shaffer, J.G., in Allchin F.R. and N. Hammond (eds.), 1979, The Archaeology of Afghanistan, Academic Press, 91, 141-4).   If this dating is acceptable, not only is this metal the earliest tin bronze known from anywhere, but it is also an isolated occurrence of far older than its nearest rival and quite unrelated to the main development of bronze age metallurgy.  

"Even more exciting is the evidence from Shortugai. Since the discovery of the first Indus finds at Harappa in 1921, the sphere of influence of this civilization has been greatly extended, first southwards to Gujarat and the Makran coast of Baluchistan, and now into northern Afghanistan. In 1975, French archaeologists discovered on the surface at Shortugai, sherds of Indus pottery extending over more than a millennium - the whole span of the Indus civilization. (Lyonnet, B., 1977, Decouverte des sites de l'age du bronze dans le N.E. de l'Afghanistan: leurs rapports avec la civilisation de l'Indus, Annali Instituto Orientali di Napoli, 37, 19-35). The sites are clustered above the confluence of the Amur Darya and the Kokcha. Finds also included gold and, nor expectedly, much lapis lazuli. Particularly important is a Harappan seal bearing an engraved rhinoceros and an inscription which reinforces the belief that the site was a trading post. Shortugai is only 800 km from Harappa, as the crow flies, though the journey involves hundreds of kilometres of mountainous terrain through the Hindu Kush.   Lyonnet's conclusion was that the most likely explanation for their existence was an interest in 'the mineral resources of the Iranian Plateau and of Central Asia', to which can now be added those of Afghanistan itself. Indus contacts extended well into Turkmenia where the principal bronze age settlements, such as Altin-depe and Namasga-depe, lie close to the Iranian border. Imports here include square and oval gaming-counters of Indian ivory, and decorated sticks, numerous at Mohenjo-daro, related to types described in Sanskrit texts as being used in fortune-telling. The flat daggers of southern Turkmenia also closely resemble Harappan types.  

"A fine copper axe-adze from Harappa, and similar bronze examples from Chanhu-daro and, in Baluchistan, at Shahi-tump, are rare imports of the superior shaft-hole implements developed initially in Mesopotamia before 3000 BC. In northern Iran examples have been found at Shah Tepe, Tureng Tepe, and Tepe Hissar in level IIIc (2000-1500 BC).   Tin was more commonly used in eastern Iran, an area only now emerging from obscurity through the excavation of key sites such as Tepe Yahya and Shahdad. In level IVb (ca. 3000 BC) at Tepe yahya was found a dagger of 3% tin bronze. (Lamberg-Karlovsky, C.C. and M., 1971, An early city in Iran, Scientific American, 1971, 224, No. 6, 102-11; Muhly, 1973, Appendix 11, 347); perhaps the result of using a tin-rich copper ore. However, in later levels tin bronze became a 'significant element in its material culture' comparatble with other evidence from south-east Iran where at Shadad bronze shaft-hole axes and bronze vessels were found in graves dated to ca. 2500 BC. (Burney, C., 1975, From village to empire: an introduction to Near Eastern Archaeology, 1977, Phaidon). The richness of Tepe Yahha, Shahr-i-Sokhta, and Shadad, are all indicative of trade and 'an accumulation of wealth unsuspected from the area'. (Lamberg-Karlovsky, 1973, reviewing Masson and Sarianidi (1972) in Antiquity, 43-6).   .Namazga-depe and neighbouring sites are a long way from the important tin reserves of Fergana.   The origin of Near Eastern tin remains unproven; the geological evidence would favour the deposits of Fergana and the Tien Shan range.   " (Penhallurick, R.D., 1986, Tin in Antiquity, London, Institute of Metals, pp.18-32).

indiatin.jpg (13504 bytes) afghantin.jpg (81076 bytes)Sources of tin in India and Afghanistan (After Pennhallurick, 1986, maps 3 and 5).

Age of the R.gveda

Maritime, riverine trade in Vedic times

Metallurgy in Sarasvati Sindhu Civilization

Soma, electrum

Decipherment of messages conveyed by pictorial motifs

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