Surprise find with green patina

The three copper ingots that were discovered have fused into one lump due to corrosion. © Conrad Schmidt

4,300-year-old copper bars: German archaeologists came across this find during an excavation in the desert state of Oman. According to the experts, these are rare examples of raw material extraction and metal trading in the early Bronze Age. Because, as they explain, metal ingots from this era have rarely been preserved. Further investigations are to follow the discovery.

As the Goethe University Frankfurt am Main reports, at the beginning of the find history there were indications from the local population about possibly old building structures near the city of Ibra in Oman. This resulted in a field research project by a team of archaeologists from Goethe University in cooperation with the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Tourism of the desert state in the east of the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, Irini Biezeveld and Jonas Kluge came across the remains of an ancient settlement in the barren desert area.

Remains of building structures stand out in the desert. © Jonas Kluge

The archaeologists first documented the visible traces of the building, then they made test cuts in the terrain. They hoped for finds that would enable a chronological classification of the building structures. This was successful: the results showed that it is the remains of a village from the early Bronze Age - from about the period between 2600 and 2000 BC. Chr.

Evidence of raw material extraction

In addition to discoveries of ceramic remains, the archaeologists also made a discovery of rarity: something green came to light during the excavation. As it turned out, it was a metal object covered with patina - but not the remains of a tool or other utensil. Instead, it is a 1.7-kilogram lump of three individual copper bars bonded together by corrosion. They were once in the shape of cones. Experts explain that this format was created by pouring the liquid copper into small clay crucibles.

"Such a find is extremely rare," emphasizes project manager Stephanie Döpper from Goethe University. Because, as she explains, metal ingots were usually quickly processed into everyday objects, which means that the “original state” can rarely be found. The discovery of several such bars in the Early Bronze Age settlement was therefore all the more surprising. It is therefore obvious that copper was mined there. The three pieces were probably left behind by the local residents around 4,300 years ago - for reasons that have not yet been clarified.

As the experts explain, the find is now further evidence of the importance of the region of present-day Oman as a source of raw materials in the early Bronze Age. This is already proven, among other things, by cuneiform texts from Mesopotamia. The coveted metal was therefore transported as ingots as part of an early long-distance trade to the early civilizations of modern-day Iraq and the Indus culture of modern-day Pakistan and India.

Traces of interregional exchange

The fact that the newly discovered village was in contact with the Indian subcontinent is also made clear by the finds of several sherds of pottery, the team reports: These are fragments of so-called "black-slipped jars" - large storage vessels of the Indus culture. Apparently, even this small settlement in what is now central Oman was part of a system of interregional exchange, the experts say. Therefore, the investigations should now be continued. Because perhaps further discoveries can document the role of the region in trade relations more precisely.

It could also provide new insights into Early Bronze Age metalworking technologies. There is also a specific aspect that the team wants to investigate, writes the Goethe University Frankfurt: the smelting of copper requires a lot of fuel, which in a dry and sparsely vegetated area must have been a major challenge. In the further course of the project, the team hopes to be able to shed light on how people in the early Bronze Age dealt with limited resources and whether sustainable use was possible.

Source: Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main

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