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Oxhide Ingots, Copper Production and the Mediterranean Trade in Copper and Other Metals in the Bronze Age

Michael Rice Jones
Thesis:  May 2007
Chair:  Pulak




   The production and trade in copper and bronze was one of the major features of the complex societies in the Near East and Mediterranean during the third to first millennia B.C. While finished metal objects are common finds from the period, ancient metal ingots and hoards of scrap metal, as well as archaeological evidence of metallurgical activities, are often more important sources of information for how ancient technology and trade functioned. Shipwrecks, particularly those found off the coast of Turkey at Uluburun and Cape Gelidonya, as well as mining and smelting sites in the Mediterranean region, provide invaluable information on the production and trade of copper and tin, the main ingredients of bronze. In this thesis, I examine the evolution of the copper trade in the eastern and central Mediterranean, particularly during the Late Bronze Age, when ‘oxhide’ ingots were widely exported. Finds of oxhide ingots have increased dramatically in recent years, and no synthesis of all of this newly available evidence is currently available. I attempt to analyze this new evidence in relation to older finds and research, with a particular focus on the cargo of the Uluburun shipwreck, the largest collection of Bronze Age metal ingots from a single site in the Mediterranean. The history of oxhide ingot production is complex, but by the Late Bronze Age Cyprus was supplying much of the copper used to neighboring regions, with revolutionary effects on societies in Cyprus and elsewhere. The archaeological evidence shows that oxhide ingots are early examples of a standardized industrial product made for export by emerging state-level societies during the second millennium B.C. and fueled the development of international trade, metallurgical technology, and complex social institutions in a variety of Mediterranean societies from Egypt and the Levant, Greece, Cyprus, to Sardinia in the central Mediterranean.

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