A primer on old-world metals before the Copper age (revised)

by Edward Pegler on 30 August, 2015

A discussion of copper, lead, gold and silver artefacts in the Old World, their origins and distribution from the Neolithic up to the time of the earliest smelting in the Chalcolithic or Copper age… and a discussion of where copper and lead smelting originated.

(originally written mid 2010 – completely revised August 29th 2015)

The expansion of metal use in Europe and the Middle East. Brown is native copper, green is smelted copper. Arrows indicate probable sources of metals.

While this article discusses four different metals, its major focus is on copper. This is because copper has been recovered from sites which span the whole of the Neolithic, as well as later ages. The other metals are rarely or never found in sites dating before the advent of the Copper Age and, in the case of gold and silver, only late in the Copper Age.

The article concentrates on Europe and the Middle East because evidence for metal use occurs here from the late ninth millennium BC, much earlier than in other parts of the Old World. Only in the Great Lakes of North America does evidence for independent native copper use go back to the end of this period (around 5000 BC).

(All quoted dates below are meant to be calibrated.)

Sources of Copper

Copper comes in several natural forms from ‘veins’ in the ore bodies of the Earth. These occur across much of Europe and the Middle East (though notably not along the North African Maghreb). Concentrations occur in Turkey, the Balkans, Iran, Spain, Sardinia, Cyprus and the western British Isles, with local occurrences in the Levant, the Sinai Peninsula, Arabia and east of the Nile.

Native copper – fibrous, red and shiny, this is copper in its metallic form. It occurs both at the surface and sometimes deeper in the ore body. Although now scarce it was once more common. This kind of copper is very pure, occasionally containing small quantities of other metals like silver.

In the top, or the weathering zone, within ten or so metres from the surface of the ore body, rocks are exposed to air and variable amounts of oxygenated water, and are generally weaker and more porous here. As well as native copper, ores in this zone are oxidised to form various minerals, including:

1 – Copper oxide e.g. cuprite, an attractive red mineral, but generally too soft for use as ornament.

2 – Copper carbonates – produced in the presence of limestone or other carbonates. The best known minerals are malachite, which is green, and the more unstable azurite. Azurite is a deep blue (not to be confused with lapis lazuli). However, it is only stable in alkaline conditions, normally breaking down to malachite on exposure to air. Malachite was often used as an ornament for beads. Both minerals were frequently ground to use as pigments.

3 – Copper silicates – such as the blue-green chrysocolla.

4 – Turquoise – a rare, blue copper aluminium phosphate mineral prized in itself.

(NB, in mountainous, glaciated areas, well developed weathering zones could have been either partially or wholly removed by ice movement, so concentrations of these minerals are likely to be rarer in mountainous parts of Europe subject to glaciation, such as the north and west of the British Isles and Scandinavia, and the higher mountains of the Alps, Pyrenees, Balkans, Turkey and the Caucasus.)

Below this is the airless, wet base of the weathering zone, known as the enrichment zone. Here, and in the drier, main ore body below, copper occurs mainly in copper sulphide ores. Amongst others, minerals include chalcocite, chalcopyrite and bornite. Although these are now the major source of copper, they are much more difficult to mine.

Processing into copper

The first stage is to dig or break the ore or copper out of the ground, using whatever tools are available. Historically, these appear to be a mixture of stones, bone or horn/antler picks. This could be supplemented if necessary by shattering the rock, achieved by heating the rock using fire then rapidly cooling it with water.

Early working of native copper usually involved hammering the copper into a sheet, then rolling the sheet copper up to make beads, hooks or awls (points). Copper is best heated (annealed) to make it less brittle after it’s been hammered.

All ores need breaking up to give them the maximum surface area possible and get rid of any obvious waste (‘gangue’). Carbonate and sulphide ores are then roasted in air to drive off volatiles (e.g. water, sulphur dioxide or carbon dioxide) and leave copper oxide. This oxide ‘charge’ can then be ‘smelted’ at high temperatures (at least 700ºC and in reality much higher) in a crucible to produce impure copper. This requires a lack of oxygen and the presence of carbon (charcoal) to remove the oxide (reduction).

An alternative method has recently been argued for early smelting, however. This involves the use of both oxide ores and sulphide ores in a mix. Given enough sulphide ore, the oxide ores are both roasted and reduced without the need for the deliberate creation of a complex reduction atmosphere using charcoal. This makes the process simpler (if messier) but uses smaller charges and will therefore produce smaller quantites of copper.

Whilst pottery only came into existence in Europe and the Middle East after the seventh millennium BC, people were able to fire clay objects even before they could make pots, as well as make lime plaster. These required temperatures greater than 700ºC. It was therefore perfectly possible to produce small dots of copper in clay firing ovens from copper ores, perhaps used as paints on pottery. Whatever, copper extraction from ore was not likely to have happened by chance.

Properties of copper

Copper keeps its shiny red appearance quite effectively and would have been a prized object in the Neolithic. Being quite soft, it also has the advantage of being able to make larger bits out of small bits by hammering and heating. Therefore (like other metals but unlike stone) its value would always have been proportional to its volume or weight. However, its softness made it less useful for practical purposes so, with exceptions, pure copper tended to be for ornaments.

Copper can be alloyed with many other elements, but two are significant historically. The first is arsenic, which, when added to copper in small percentages makes it much easier to work initially, gives an interesting sheen to the copper and may give it a harder cutting edge for tools or weapons. Adding tin to copper is, however, much more effective in giving a hard edge, and 10% tin is about ideal. It was not until the discovery of such alloys around or shortly before 4000 BC, as well as how to make them, that copper became a practical metal for tools or weapons. Whatever, this is not in the scope of this article.

Copper beads from Aşıklı Höyük, highly oxidised and fused together.

Copper beads from Aşıklı Höyük, highly oxidised and fused together.

Copper artefacts buried in the ground for several thousand years can oxidise or reduce slightly, and small artefacts can be difficult to tell from ore minerals. Chemical analysis is helpful, making it increasingly easy to tell what type of copper is in an object (mineral ore, native or smelted, alloy or not).

For example, native copper is very pure, with small amounts of silver and other trace elements, whereas smelted copper contains oxides in small concentrations (not until the third millennium BC does iron content rise significantly). However, due to the extensive reuse and mixing of copper from different sources, finding where the copper in an item came from originally is often difficult.

Lead, gold & silver sources and processing

Lead occurs naturally in the ground as lead sulphide ores such as galena or as carbonate ore such as cerrusite. It is very rare to find native lead. Galena, having a metallic look, was collected and polished early on for use as beads or ground up for cosmetics. Whilst lead ores still need temperatures of about 800ºC to roast or smelt into pure lead, it needs only mildly reducing conditions and lead melts at just 330ºC. Therefore it should be easier to extract lead from ores than copper.

Lead is malleable and heavy. However, it is poisonous and oxidises easily to a dull tarnish so in the small quantities that it would have been recovered by early peoples it had very limited uses. Lead sources occur in Turkey and Iran.

Gold is unreactive, occurring only in its native form, so does not need to be smelted. It can be found in streams (as ‘placer’ deposits) or in veins in rock. It was probably always prized but only for ornaments as it is quite soft. Gold often occurs alloyed with native silver, when it is known as ‘electrum’. Gold, like copper, can be hammered into sheets and rolled. Alternatively, it can be melted and cast at around 1050ºC.

While gold is found in many parts Europe and the Middle East, relevant locations for the probable sources of the first gold are placer deposits in Bulgaria and Turkey.

Native silver occurs in pure form, but more often as an alloy, mixed with other metals such as gold and mercury, or together with native copper. It is often found in this state near the surface in the upper weathering zone. These would have been the sources for ancient silver. Silver also occurs in many minerals (which need smelting) in small quantities within ores of lead, zinc or copper below the weathering zone.

Earliest evidence for ore use

Shaped pieces of copper ore date back to before the beginning of agriculture. Beads of malachite, turquoise and, possibly, chrysocolla have been found from Natufian culture settings in Israel. More have been found from early agricultural settings.§ As later sites often contain beads of copper ore or ore fragments I won’t discuss these further here.

The oldest piece of worked copper is often quoted as being a copper pendant from the burial site of Zawi Chemi / Shanidar Cave, northern Iraq, dated to the middle of the ninth millennium BC. However, this is not worked copper but ground and polished copper ore, probably from Turkey to the north. It is made up of malachite and chrysocolla but happens to contain a fair amount of native copper*.

Neolithic metal finds


Cayönü copper awl

A copper awl from Cayönü

The earliest known copper artefacts are from Çayönü Tepesi, an early agricultural settlement in the SE, from the late 9th millennium BC to early eighth millennium BC. The collection of around 200 pieces weighs just 140 grammes and consists of small, worked, native copper items such as drilled beads, hooks, discs, awls and reamers (points), some of which have been ground to sharpness, suggesting a practical use, perhaps in clothing making.

Perhaps 100 or more of these items were found in two areas of a single courtyard and date to the period of most activity in the site (levels I and II). Earlier evidence at Çayönü shows extensive working of malachite into beads. Çayönü happened to be near copper ores containing malachite and native copper. Many show evidence of high arsenic contents, which is an indicator of a basic igneous source. Modern copper mines to the north near Ergani are potential sources.

Copper bead from Aşıklı Höyük, Turkey.

Copper bead from Aşıklı Höyük

Other early sites are Aşıklı Höyük, further west, from which have been found more than 11 rolled or solid, mostly annealed native copper beads included in burials (levels 1-4, but mainly level 3) probably from the early 8th millennium BC. Small copper beads at Nevalı Çori, thought to date around 7500 BC, despite being genuine in form, are considered by some to be suspect, due to base metal impurities indicative of smelting (does this mean an excess of iron? I can’t say at the moment).

(Personally, I am inclined to believe that all these beads are genuinely Neolithic. One of the beads from Aşıklı contains high amounts of arsenic and tin, often taken to be an indicator of smelting too. However, in early American sites this is taken as being an indicator of the native copper coming from basic igneous sources, not of smelting).

After a gap in evidence of about a thousand years, native copper reappears in a number of sites across Turkey. Awls, tubes, rings, pins and beads been found at Çatal Höyük, dating from the mid seventh millennium BC onward (levels VII and above). Early to mid seventh millennium BC (level IX) beads (?and a pendant) from the site were originally thought to be of smelted lead, but are now known to be of shaped galena.

Copper mace head from Can Hasan, Turkey, probably dated around 5000BC

Copper mace head from Can Hasan (on display in Ankara’s Museum of Archaeology)

Hacılar (?level VI) has corroded copper pins or beads dating to ?also to the late 7th millennium BC. At Can Hasan (level 2B) a round copper mace-head several centimetres wide, made of hammered native copper, was found in a burial (lost in a fire, according to James Mellaart). This mace-head has been dated to a little after 6000 BC. At Yümüktepe / Mersin (levels XXII-XXI) small ornaments and pins date ? to around the same time.


A rolled native copper bead, from the late eighth or early seventh millennium BC, has been found in a burial at Tepe Ali Kosh, SW Iran. It has been argued to be an imported item from eastern Turkey. Other examples of native copper date to the sixth and fifth millennia (e.g. awls from Tepe Zagheh, fragments from Chogha Sefid, pins, projectile points, awls and spiral coils from Tepe Sialk and two awls from Tepe Yahya). Chemical analysis of finds from Tepe Sialk suggest a possible source of native copper in the Talmessi Mine near Anarak, Isfahan.


A cold worked copper awl (according to Charles Maisels more like a chisel) was found on the floor of a house in seventh millennium BC Tell Maghzaliyah. From the ?late seventh millennium BC site of Tell Sotto come two highly corroded beads which may be either malachite or copper. At Tell es-Sawwan, from the late seventh to early sixth millennium BC, three possibly copper beads and a piece of ore were found on a floor surface (level II), as well as a very small, perforated knife in a burial (level I).

From early to mid sixth millennium Yarim Tepe I two copper rings (in levels XI and X (Mellaart says IX) and a copper sheet bead (in level VII) have been found. In nearby Yarim Tepe II a possible copper bead and seal from the mid sixth millennium BC are reported. However, both are corroded and could well be malachite. Telul eth-Thalathat II, another sixth millennium BC site, has two possible copper fragments.

However, the most significant finds from the early sixth millennium BC are of what is reported to be metallic lead: From Yarim Tepe I comes a lead bracelet (underneath a wall of a level XII building) dating to around 5700BC. From Jarmo, at about the same date, comes a tiny lead bead. And from the ‘Burnt House’ (TT6) at Tell Arpachiyah, of early to mid sixth millennium BC date, comes conical lead ‘lump’. None of these have been tested to tell whether they are smelted, however.


Abundant evidence of fairly pure native copper artefacts comes from around 7500BC or just after in Tell Halula (phases 11 and 12). In level 11, 4 burials contained 14 beads. In the following level 6 burials contained 23 beads. Many of these were buried with infants. A last burial in the sequence contains a 9cm long crescent-like strip of hammered copper. Most of the artefacts show evidence of being tied with string, presumably to be worn around the neck or head.

A native copper nugget, made into a bead and again with evidence of string, is found at Tell Ramad (level I). It is dated to the ?first half of the seventh millennium BC (apparently within the thousand year gap in the evidence from Turkey). More native copper artefacts, such as rings, pins and rolled sheet come from Sabi Abyad, dated to the late seventh millennium BC. Tell Kurdu, from the early sixth millennium BC, has a bead of either malachite or copper. On the other hand, Chagar Bazar has a bead of pure native copper of about the same date.


Copper beads, dating from the end of the seventh into the sixth millennium BC, have been found at Mehrgarh.


The first evidence of native copper here is an awl over 14 cm long. This comes from the (presumably late) seventh millennium BC site of Balomir, Romania, at a time shortly after farming was adopted in the Balkans. Other Balkan sites such as Belovode, Vinca, Selevac, Coka, Cernica, Ovcharovo I, Usoe II have evidence for rolled native copper beads and Gornea has evidence for simple hooks.


A copper ring-shaped bead from Aruchlo I, Georgia, dated to the mid sixth millennium BC, has a surprising amount of tin, but is still thought to be of native copper.


A copper awl from a burial at Tel Tsaf has been dated to around or just after 5000 BC. Due to a high tin content is thought to be of non-local origin.

Evidence of smelting


It has been argued that corroded copper from Tell is Sawwan and at Yarim Tepe I shows a notable content of iron, making it possible that the copper is derived from smelting around the early sixth millennium BC. This is currently disputed.

However, the three occurrences of lead dating to the beginning of the sixth millennium BC at Yarim Tepe, Jarmo and Tell Arpachiyah are possibly smelted. Unless they came from a rare source of native lead then they are likely to be sourced from the roasting or smelting of galena. This galena is likely to have come from Turkey or Iran. Either way, while the technology needed is not as complex as that for copper smelting, it is still significant.


On a firmer footing, a 3cm ‘mini-mace’ made of pure, smelted lead on a wooden rod, was found in Ashalim Cave in the the northern Negev Highlands. Based on the wood (which may be younger), it is dated to the later part of the 5th millennium BC. Its chemical composition indicates that it came from the Taurus mountains of Anatolia in the north.


The earliest disputed evidence for copper smelting is from Çatal Höyük (level VIA) (late seventh millennium BC). Original reports suggested broken crucibles, semi-melted ore fragments and a slag (unwanted material from molten copper). However, doubts have been raised by Miljana Radivojevic and others, who suggest that this may be simply the result of uncontrolled fire (something certainly seen at this level) in association either with native copper or ore. Whatever, copper was melted, meaning that high temperatures were achieved.

Additionally, there is the chemical signature of smelted copper in mid eighth millennium BC Nevalı Çori. However, this date seems so anomalous as to be currently discounted.

Chisels and axes from Yümüktepe.

Chisels and axes from Yümüktepe.

Good evidence for smelted copper artefacts, is found at Yümüktepe / Mersin (level XVII), where cast copper axes and chisels with chemical signatures of smelting date from around 5000-4900 BC. Subsequent levels even show evidence of alloying with small quantities tin and arsenic.

Evidence of actual smelting in Turkey dates only to the late fifth millennium BC at Değirmentepe and various other sites (Noršuntepe, Tepeçik, Tülintepe). The earliest evidence of copper ore mining in Turkey comes from Kozlu Eski Gümüşlük. This is dated as around 4000 BC, based on radiocarbon dating of wood from the mine.³


Clear evidence of smelting technology, in the form of slag and crucibles, comes from Belovode, Serbia, at around 5000 BC (Vinca B2). Additionally, discoveries at Pločnik, Serbia have revealed 34 large, cast copper implements, dating to the early fifth millennium BC, contemporary with those at Mersin (an additional claim of tin bronze foil from this site, dated to around 4500 BC, needs further work as it is of rather early date). Further evidence of smelting technology comes from mid fifth millennium BC Vinča-Belo Brdo, Serbia and perhaps also from Gornja Tuzla, Bosnia.

In Macedonia, possible evidence for smelting of copper comes from Dikili, together with objects and a needle, dating around the beginning of the fifth millennium BC. Copper beads and other objects are also found in Sitagroi, northern Greece (end level II), from around 4800 BC. A copper artefact with a high iron content is also found at Usoe (level II), Bulgaria, dating to around 5000 BC. Lastly, a possible fragment of slag from Anza IV, Yugoslavia, dates to the same time.

Evidence of the use of two early copper mines in the Balkans, Ai Bunar, Bulgaria and Rudna Glava, Serbia, comes from the late sixth millennium to early fourth millennium BC, based on evidence in the mines and matching chemical signatures of copper artefacts. Chemical signatures indicate that perhaps four other mines were operating somewhere in the Balkans during this period. (It is probably important to mention that mining, probably for malachite, was not not necessarily to smelt ores).

There is little evidence for copper smelting in other parts of Europe until the late fifth millennium BC, the earliest being from Brixlegg, in Austria. Copper smelting seems to be relatively widespread in central Europe by the mid fourth millennium BC.5


The earliest clear evidence for copper smelting on the Iranian Plateau is from Tal-i Iblis (between levels I and II). The dating of this evidence is poor and can currently only be limited to the range 5200-4400BC.  However, there also is good evidence for copper smelting at other places such as Tepe Ghabristan and Tepe Sialk from the mid to late fifth millennium BC. 4


Evidence of local copper smelting comes from the second half of the fifth millennium BC. Sites such  in sites such as Shiqmim and Abu Matar contain evidence of smelting ores.


Crucibles from Mehrgarh, Pakistan date from the first half of the fourth millennium BC, a little later again.


At Khvalynsk, on the Volga, 320 copper beads and other ornaments have been found in a cemetery dated to around 4700 BC. Analyses show that most of these are imports from the Balkans.

The first gold & silver

As far as I can tell, there are no recorded Neolithic gold artefacts. The most spectacular find of gold artefacts comes from the copper age Varna (I) cemetery in Bulgaria, but there are also various other finds of worked gold in Bulgaria, as well as in Macedonia, Romania and the Ukrainian steppe. These all date to the later fifth millennium, none being earlier than about 4500 BC. Sources for these are thought to be placer deposits in western Bulgaria.

The oldest occurrence of silver, two native silver beads, is slightly earlier, occuring in a rather macabre ‘Death Pit’ in Domuztepe, south-central Turkey, probably dates around the middle sixth millennium BC. Later occurrences include a hoard in Alepotrypa, in southern Greece, dated to the mid 5th to early 4th millennium BC. However, there is also evidence of actual silver smelting from Sardinia by the end of the fifth millennium BC or the beginning of the 4th millennium.5


The overall picture presented above suggests the following:

1) Native copper is first extracted in south eastern Turkey around 8500 BC, near the beginning of the PPNB (pre-pottery Neolithic B).

2) After about 7400 BC copper becomes extremely rare in the archaeological record for almost a thousand years, perhaps indicating either a lack of sources, a lack of mining or extreme care in preventing its deposition.

3) From 6500 BC native copper again becomes increasingly available, with its use being more extensive, occurring from the Balkans to Pakistan, as well as profligate.

4) The first smelting of lead was perhaps achieved in the mid to late 6th millennium, perhaps in either south eastern Turkey or western Iran (this may await further analysis of the evidence). Coincidentally or not, the first appearance of silver is also from this time.

5) Sometime around or just before 5000 BC the first smelting of carbonate ores for copper was achieved. This could have been in the Balkans and, possibly simultaneously, in Turkey (see discussion below).

6) By the second half of the fifth millennium BC the technology of smelting carbonate ores had spread west into central Europe, east onto the Iranian plateau, and south into the Levant.

7) The expansion of copper usage around the middle of the fifth millennium BC appears to have promoted the use of other metals, notably gold and silver, in the Balkans and beyond, as well as experimentation with alloying.

Many origins or one origin for copper smelting?

The smelting of copper has long been assumed to have started in one place, either in Turkey, Iran, Iraq or the Levant. However, recent evidence of early mining and early smelting in the Balkans has caused a reassessment.

Most archaeologists now argue for multiple origins for copper smelting, with one origin in the west, in the Balkans, and one in the east, perhaps in Turkey or Iran (currently the favoured view of Miljana Radivojevic). On the other hand some still argue for a single origin, perhaps in Turkey (e.g. Ben Roberts and Chris Thornton).

If the evidence of lead smelting is taken into account then the most parsimonious explanation would be an origin for all smelting in Turkey, as Roberts and Thornton argue. However, lead smelting needs a simpler technology than copper smelting and is not necessarily linked. If this were not taken into account, then it’s perfectly arguable that the Balkans (including perhaps NW Turkey) is earlier in its smelting of copper.

What if the chisels found in Mersin/Yümüktepe, Turkey were, in fact, imports from the Balkans? While very unlikely, the recent discovery in Israel of a copper awl with a high tin content, which appeared to be from somewhere beyond Anatolia, suggests that copper objects could move over considerable distances at this time, so makes it not impossible. More than this, the occurrence of Balkan copper on the Volga, 700 miles from its source in Bulgaria, indicates that Balkan copper could be exported the distance to Yümüktepe and further.

What’s probably needed to  prove this wrong is an analysis of the copper implements from Yümüktepe. If they were found to be sourced from ores that do not match those of the Balkans then such an argument would be difficult to justify. Whatever, only further finds and increasing refinements to the dating will answer all of these questions.


Akkermans, P. M. M. G. &  Schwartz, G.M. 2004 The archaeology of Syria: from complex hunter-gatherers to early urban, Cambridge, pp486.

Anthony, D. 2007 The Horse, the Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, Princeton, pp568.

Antonović, D. 2000 Malachite finds in Vinča Culture: evidence of early copper metallurgy in Serbia, Metallurgija – Journal of Metallurgy, p85-92.

²Archaeology Daily News 2010 Belovode site in Serbia may have hosted first copper makers, Website

§Bar-Yosef Mayer, D.E & Porat, N. 2008 Green stone beads at the dawn of agriculture. PNAS 105, p8548-8551.

Bastert-Lamprichs K. et al. 2012 Der Beginn der Landwirtschaftim Südkaukasus. Die Ausgrabungen in Aruchlo in Georgien. Berlin: DAI Eurasien Abteilung. pp48.Betancourt, P. 2006 The Chrysokamino Metallurgy Workshop and its territory, Oxbow, pp462.

Carter E. et al 2003 Elusive complexity: new data from late Halaf Domuztepe in south central Turkey. Paléorient 29, p117-34.  Source of data on silver beads from Domuztepe.

Craddock, P.T. 2000 From Hearth to Furnace: Evidences for the Earliest Metal Smelting Technologies in the Eastern Mediterranean. Paléorient 26, p151-165.

Eşin, U. 1995 Early copper metallurgy in the Pre-pottery site of Aşıklı, Readings in Prehistory: Studies presented to Halet Çambel, Graphis, p61-77.

Föll, H. (date unknown) Iron, Steel and Swords (website). A brilliantly ideosyncratic overview of the history of metals by a retired academic from Kiel University. Full of life and picture, some of which I’ve borrowed.

Frame, L. 2004 Investigations at Tal-i Iblis : evidence for copper smelting during the Chalcolithic period, PhD Thesis, MIT. This provides the evidence for copper smelting in Iran at Tal-i Iblis Level I (5290-4420BC calibrated), both in crucibles and in copper ornaments.

Gale, N.H. 1992 Metals and Metallurgy in the Chalcolithic Period, In: Flannigan, J.W. (ed) Chalcolithic Cyprus. Oxford UP, p37-61.

Garfinkel, Y. et al. 2014 The Beginning of Metallurgy in the Southern Levant: A Late 6th Millennium CalBC Copper Awl from Tel Tsaf, Israel. PLoS One. 9.

Golden, J. 2009 New Light on the Development of Chalcolithic Metal Technology in the Southern Levant, Journal of World Prehistory 22, p283-300.

^Hauptmann, A. 2007, The Archaeometallurgy of Copper, Evidence from Faynan, Jordan, Springer pp388.

Heskel, D.L. 1983 A Model for the adoption of Metallurgy in the Ancient Near East. Current Anthropology 24, p362-366.

Jovanović, B. 2009 Beginning of the Metal Age in the Central Balkans according to the results of archaeometallurgy, Journal of Mining and Metallurgy 45, 143-148.

³Kaptan, E. 1980 New Findings on the Mining History of Turkey around Tokat Region, Mineral Research and Exploration Institute of Turkey p65-76.

Maisels, C. K. 1999 Early Civilizations of the Old World, Routledge, pp479.

Molist, M. et al. 2009 New Metallurgic Findings from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic: Tell Halula (Euphrates Valley, Syria), Paléorient 32, p33-48.

Moorey, P.R.S. 1999 Ancient Mesopotamian Materials and Industries: The Archaeological Evidence, Eisenbrauns, pp415.

Morteani, G. & Northover, J.P. (eds) 2013 Prehistoric Gold In Europe: Mines, Metallurgy and Manufacture, Springer, pp618.

Some of this looks interesting with some good maps.

O’Brien W. 2015 Prehistoric Copper Mining in Europe: 5500-500 BC, Oxford, pp416.

What a book this appears to be, only discovered after I rewrote this post, but at £75 I’m not quite sure that I can afford it. Ho hum.

Özbal, H. 2014 (revision) Ancient Anatolian Metallurgy – powerpoint

Parkinson, W.A. 2004 Early copper mines at Rudna Glava and Ai Bunar, Novel Guide website.

Pigott, V.C. 1996 Near Eastern Archaeometallurgy: Modern Research and Future Directions. In: The Study of the Ancient Near East in the 21st Century, Eisenbrauns, p139-176.

Pigott, V.C. 1999 The archaeometallurgy of the Asian old world, Pennysylvania University, pp206.

Potts, D.T., 1997 Mesopotamian Civilization: the Material Foundations, Cornell, pp377.

Rapp, G.R. 2002 Archaeomineralogy, Springer, pp326. Reports occurrence of native copper in China, as well as possibly in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

Radivojević, M. et al. 2010, On the Origins of Extractive Metallurgy: New Evidence from Europe, Journal of Archaeological Science 37, p2775–2787.

Radivojevic, M. & Kuzmanović-Cvetoković 2014 Copper minerals and archaeometallurgical materials from the Vinča culture sites of Belovoce and Pločnik: overview of the evidence and new data. Starinar 64, p7-30

Radivojević, M. et al. 2013, Tainted ores and the rise of tin bronzes in Eurasia, c. 6500 years ago, Antiquity 87, p1030-1045. Comment by Duško Šljivar & Dušan Borić 2013 Context is everything (and reply). Arguing the case for mid-fifth millennium BC alloying to make bronze in the Balkans.

Radivojevic, M. & Rehren, T. 2015 Paint It Black: The Rise of Metallurgy in the Balkans, Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory (online)

Roberts, B.W. et al. 2009 Development of metallurgy in Eurasia, Antiquity 83, p1012-1022.

Roberts, B.W. ?2010 Metallurgical Networks and Technological Choice: understanding early metal in Western Europe, (online)

5 Roberts, B.W. 2009 Production Networks and Consumer Choice in the Earliest Metal of Western Europe, Journal of World Prehistory 22, p461-481.

Sagona, A. & Zimansky, P.E. 2009 Ancient Turkey, Routeledge, pp408.

Shrivastva, R. 1999 The mining of copper in Ancient India, Indian Journal of History of Science 34, 173-180.

Šjlivar, D. 2006 The Earliest Copper Metallurgy in the Central Balkans, Assoc. Metallurgical Engs. Serbia 12, 93-104.

*Solecki, R.S, Solecki, R.L., Agelaraki, A.P. 2004 The proto-neolithic cemetery in Shanidar Cave. Texas A & M University, pp256.

Steadman, S.R. & McMahon, G. 2011 Earliest Anatolian Metals and Metallurgy: The Neolithic and Chalcolithic. In: The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Anatolia, Oxford, p861-876.

Thornton, C.P. 2009 The Emergence of Complex Metallurgy on the Iranian Plateau: Escaping the Levantine Paradigm, Journal of World Prehistory 22, p301–327.

Thornton, C.P. et al. 2010 A Chalcolithic error: rebuttal to Amzallag 2009, American Journal of Archaeology 114, p305-315.

Other useful reference page by Chris Thornton

Yalçın, Ü 1998 Der Keulenkopf von Can Hasan (TR) Naturwissenschaftliche Untersuchung und Neue Interpretation, p279-289 In: Rehren Th. Hauptmann A. & Muhly J.D. Metallurgica Antiqua. In honour of Hans-Gert Bachmann and Robert Maddin. Deutsches Bergbau-Museum, Bochum, pp304. I wish I read German, but it is an original source.

Yahalom-Mack, N. 2015 The Earliest Lead Object in the Levant, PLoS ONE 10.

Unknown Provenance, list of sites in Turkey producing metals from Neolithic to Bronze age. Possibly rather dated sources summarised by someone with a familiarity with Japanese.

Unknown authors (date unknown) The History of the Near East Electronic Compendium (website). Info on Tell Ramad and other sites.

Unknown author 2014 Neolithic metallurgy in Anatolia (copy of powerpoint slides). Actually covering metallurgy down to the chalcolithic.



{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Walt Kubilius March 6, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Very well written summary. Thank you


Zeynep Tumer November 7, 2014 at 5:06 pm

Dear Ned,
Great work. I am a molecular geneticist with special interest in a hereditary copper metabolism disorder, Menkes disease. Through this subject I got fascinated with copper and reading many things about it, from history to electron shells, from copper dependent enzymes to usage of copper as an antimicrobial agent, even for ebola…
I am going to give a talk and needed to know more about this famous “copper pendant” found in North Iraq. That is how I found your page and enjoyed it very much. Do you know where this pendant is today? And do you know whether anybody has pictured it?
Best wishes Zeynep


Maréchal Jean-François August 21, 2012 at 7:07 pm

Hi, All these data are very interesting and this (too?) large and (small?) consistent synthesis is typically archaeological and only based on finds by chance… As dixit l’Abbé Breuil about the origin of the first humans, could be told for the first metallurgy, agriculture, etc.: “un berceau à roulettes”, which is dependent from chance… and so very rolled and therefore manipulated. I regret that the archaeologists are not more and before all or don’t remain historians and geographers… There are perhaps two significant holes in your presentation: Central Europe and Scandinavia with probably the most numerous and ancient stone and copper axes … The calibrated radiocarbon and future pb isotop beginning revolution has not yet rolled towards north and this problematical industry!
I beg your pardon for my improvised text and english! Best wishes.


Edward Pegler August 25, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Dear ?François

Thanks for your very clear comment. Your English is fine and much better than my French.

Do you mean by Central Europe modern Germany, Austria, Czeck Republic, etc, or Bulgaria, Serbia etc (which were discussed)? As far as I can tell from the literature, copper smelting and working is later in both ‘Central Europe’ and Scandinavia. This is the only reason why I didn’t discuss it as where would I stope. I might also include the Levant, Egypt, Italy, Britain, China etc, all of which are outside the scope of the present discussion.

As for stone, this is obviously outside the present discussion. However, the nature of stone polished axe distribution and exchange in Europe is an incredibly interesting topic in itself, probably very much connected with the working of copper in the Balkans, and indicates a knowledge of copper-style objects well to the north and west.

All said, the oldest known age of Italian copper working has certainly become earlier in the last twenty years and there’s no reason why other parts of Europe (and Turkey) won’t, by some existing or new technique, also be shown to have older dates for copper smelting and working. Equally, this could apply to the Balkans and Iran. Who knows.

best wishes



Wes March 4, 2012 at 11:46 pm

I apprec. your studies. My only study was done years ago in Oregon concerning the Pacific Northwest to complete science Ed. requirements.


Edward Pegler March 6, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Dear Wes

Tell me more


Ben Roberts September 28, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Hi Edward

Nice blog and great to have more debate on this – if you send me your email I’ll happily send you a more recent article I did with a couple of colleagues

B. W. Roberts, C.P. Thornton, V.C. Pigott, ‘Development of metallurgy in Eurasia’. Antiquity 83 (2009), 1012–1022.

which gives the big picture for Europe and Asia and puts my European centred paper you cite in a broader context and hopefully makes a better case for my comment!




Edward Pegler September 28, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Dear Ben

Done. And thanks for the positive comment… although I understand your different opinion and may well change mine after reading your paper.



Edward Pegler October 15, 2010 at 6:17 pm

It seems that the major issue raised by Ben here is the dating of the earliest smelting in Iran, from Tal-i Iblis. This is possibly dated to the early part of the fifth millennium BC, which would be similar in date to the evidence of smelting from the Balkans. If this is correct then it implies simultaneous commencement of copper smelting in two widely separated areas. This could either be due to multiple origins of smelting (as would be argued by Colin Renfrew, say) or because the one origin of smelting happened between the two extremes, for example in Anatolia (as is argued by Ben Roberts). My question is how well established is the accuracy of the dating of Tal-i Iblis? It seems to me that most Iranian sites of smelting seem to occur later, from the second half of the fifth millennium BC. As far as I can tell the dating of Tal-i Iblis allows for some variation. Any thoughts on this would be appreciated.



Geoff Carter July 12, 2010 at 5:26 pm

This is an excellent survey. It is not my specialist field, but as you pointed out in relations to the development of agriculture, simple models, and single points of origin, are not helpful. It is sometimes difficult to accept that we lack sufficient evidence, and we may never be able to resolve such issues with any degree of certainty.
What about silver?


Edward Pegler July 12, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Dear Geoff

This article is a start. Really it resulted from my horror at wikipedia’s entry on smelting. It’s undoubtedly true that copper smelting has multiple origins, for example in the Americas. Additionally, there is no doubt that plenty of copper smelting evidence has either not yet been found or not yet recognised as found. However, the rise and increasing influence of the Balkans in the middle of the sixth millennium came at a similar point to the failure of certain centres in western Turkey such as Halcilar. I have a feeling that the Balkans advantage may have been short but did exist.

As for silver, it’s normally associated with lead ores. I haven’t found any evidence of it from before the 5th millennium, like gold. I suspect that once copper was being both purified and alloyed that’s possibly when silver came out in the wash. However, that needs more homework and I’ll get back to you.



cor June 25, 2018 at 9:28 pm

Does it not follow that gold, like silver has been discovered as a byproduct of the smelting of another metal, such as copper?
Copper has been used 4000-5000 years before gold, yet gold appears suddenly only after copper smelting spreads. Is this just a coincidence?


Edward Pegler June 26, 2018 at 9:29 am

Dear Cor – thanks for the comment. Gold, being an inert metal, doesn’t occur in compound form (e.g. there’s no such thing as gold oxide, for example), so any gold found would have been in its native, pure form. This means that it wouldn’t have been found through smelting like lead and silver were.

The most likely discovery of early gold would have been in placer form, that is as nuggets of gold found in streams or, more unlikely, on beaches. Western Turkey is renowned for such occurrences in early history (think king Midas of Lydia). However, the question you raise is a good one – why does the earliest dated gold artifact only appear after the smelting of copper? It’s almost impossible to believe that people could not have noticed the gold in streams before this date, and to have discovered its properties.

There are a couple of possibilities. One is that before 4500 BC gold was so highly prized that it simply never got buried and was constantly recycled. It’s certainly possible. In this case the threshold of gold burial would be as a result of the discovery of more gold. Again this begs the question why gold was suddenly discovered in increasing amounts after the smelting of copper.

The other possibility, which seems quite unlikely, is that people didn’t think gold worth collecting. This seems equally implausible since early people liked shiny things. As an aside to this, I don’t believe the myth that Pre-Colombian Americans didn’t value gold. The fact that they made prestige ornaments out of it and kings had loads of it tells us that it was precious to them.

So, in answer, I have no idea why gold first appears in burials only in the mid fifth millennium but it isn’t as a result of smelting.



Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: