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Reviewed by:
  • The Archaeometallurgy of the Asian Old World
  • Peter Northover
The Archaeometallurgy of the Asian Old World. Vincent C. Piggott, ed. University Museum Publications, Philadelphia PA, 1999. vi + 210 pp.; 39 figs. ISBN 0-924171-34-0, ISSN 1048-5325. $42.00 Cloth.

This compilation is based on the proceedings of "The 4th USA-USSR Archaeological Exchange Symposium: The Development of Ancient Metallurgy in the Old World," held in Tbilisi and Signakhi, Republic of Georgia, 27 September–8 October 1988. It has had a long gestation, as described by the editor in his introductory comments. It finally contains six papers on archaeometallurgy presented by U.S. participants, together with an invited paper on copper-based metallurgy in South Asia, and an English translation of a Russian summary of the proceedings included as an appendix. The majority of the final manuscripts was received in 1996 with some updating to include references up to 1998. Final publication was in 1999.

Given this lengthy evolution, any review must address the question of whether the final volume justifies its publication. To some extent more recent published research has superseded it, but it does make accessible material that might not be readily available. For example, papers by J. N. Kemoyer and H.M.-L. Miller on "Metal technologies in the Indus Valley tradition in Pakistan and western India" (pp. 107–152) and G. L. Possehl and P. Gullapalli on "The Early Iron Age in South Asia" (pp. 153–176) ably summarize material not easily available. This is also true of the editor's paper on "The development of metal production on the Iranian Plateau: An archaeometallurgical perspective" (pp. 73–106) but this is in part duplicated elsewhere in the author's own writings.

The reviewer must also consider the presentation of the data and the quality of the discussion presented. There is no space for detailed criticism of each paper and any such review would be uneven depending on the knowledge and experience of the reviewer. Consequently the review will center on how the individual papers address archaeometallurgical questions of general relevance throughout the Asian Old World. With a background in physical metallurgy, my main concern is how the authors explore how the knowledge and exploitation of metal properties developed; issues of provenance and trade in this region, although important, are still hemmed in by limited analytical and archaeological data.

How are the metallurgical data marshalled in support of the arguments? One can almost say that the data are not presented. A volume like this is not the place to tabulate large bodies of analytical data (although the copper and iron alloy analyses in the two papers on South Asia are certainly not out of place). However, graphical summaries of available data would have made several arguments more comprehensible. One example is the reference by Stech to the Mesopotamian Metals Project in "Aspects of early metallurgy in Mesopotamia and Anatolia" (pp. 59–72). These data have been long awaited but the only glimpse allowed here is a tabulation of the number of objects analyzed and the number found to be bronze. Graphics of tin and arsenic contents would not have compromised the full publication of this material and would have avoided the need for the rather dubious numerical definition of bronze used in constructing the table.

This applies to all of the discussions of copper-based metallurgy in the volume. In the same context, Piggott in his introduction notes that in the third millennium B.C. weapons and edged tools are generally not made of bronze although "these are the artifacts that would function most effectively from being made of a copper alloy with a tin content close to 10% that could then be work hardened to produce a metal with useful mechanical properties" (p. 5). This illustrates the assumptions made throughout the copper alloy discussions that actually hinder debate on how alloying developed. Sadly, insufficient objects are [End Page 310] studied metallographically to determine how the metal in them was actually used—there are no micrographs anywhere in this volume, a regretable omission. For the purposes in which bronze was used in the ancient world, a wide range of tin contents, from 5...