Invisible Connections of the Copper from Ancient Egypt and Nubia

Martin Odler (Charles University, Prague) and Jiří Kmošek (Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna) present ‘invisible connections’ between copper artefacts from Ancient Egypt and Nubia through archaeometallurgical analysis of the Bronze Age metalwork from the Egyptian Museum of the University of Leipzig.

Our latest book Invisible Connections, published with Archaeopress, gives voice to the ancient Egyptian metal artefacts as historical sources of their own nature. Egyptology is heavily focused on the texts and images of this ancient civilization, to the detriment of other valuable information from the past. Our aim was to demonstrate what can be found out from the artefacts in a museum, with a little sampling and wide application of archaeometallurgical methods, as alluded to in the book’s subtitle: An Archaeometallurgical Analysis of the Bronze Age Metalwork from the Egyptian Museum of the University of Leipzig. It does not mean that science can fully replace the traditionally used evidence, but that the texts and iconography can be enriched by these “invisible connections” preserved in the ancient objects.

How did the book come about?

Figure 1: Exhibited copper alloy finds in the Egyptian Museum of the University of Leipzig before the World War II, ÄMUL Fotothek 2130, Karton 13, photo by Friedrich Koch © Ägyptisches Museum – Georg Steindorff – der Universität Leipzig

The Egyptian Museum of the University of Leipzig has the largest university collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts in continental Europe (Fig. 1). It includes important objects from the excavations of the most prolific excavator among the museum’s curators, Georg Steindorff (1861–1951), at the famous Egyptian and Nubian sites of Abusir, Aniba, and Giza, complemented by several objects from Abydos, Thebes, Kerma, and other sites (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: Provenance of the analysed artefacts, mapped on the background from Natural Earth by Martin Odler in qGIS.

Readers of the Archaeopress blog will remember a post about the book Old Kingdom Copper Tools and Model Tools, authored by Martin Odler, in 2016. Our research in Leipzig started already then, kindly supported by the curator of the collection, Dr Dietrich Raue. In 2018, results of the Third Millennium BC material of Early Dynastic Period and Old Kingdom were published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, and discussed here on the Archaeopress blog as well. The most surprising finding was a 5,000-year-old bowl from the Egyptian site of Abusir, made of arsenical copper mixed with nickel, peculiar material occurring concurrently in Anatolia. Lead isotope ratios from the sampled artefacts corroborated this exceptionally early connection between Egypt and Anatolia. Our book contains also new material and more about it is revealed in the following lines.

What is inside?

The book presents the results of an interdisciplinary project by Egyptologist Martin Odler, archaeometalurgist Jiří Kmošek and other specialists. A selection of 86 artefacts was analysed using a range of archaeometallurgical methods (X-ray fluorescence; metallography; neutron activation analysis; lead isotope analysis), providing a diachronic sample of Bronze Age Egyptian copper alloy metalwork from Dynasty 1 to Dynasty 19 (thus covering largely Third and Second Millennium BC). Genuine interdisciplinarity arises from the dialogue of the various specialization of researchers, respecting diverse expressions of divergent strands of evidence. Besides the currently popular focus on the provenance of ores, the selection of the applied methods is also aimed at the description of practical physical properties of the objects. The question of differences between full-size functional artefacts and models is addressed, as is the problem of ‘imports’ and their ‘ethnic’ interpretation.

Figure 3: Aniba, Cemetery N, stone tumuli of the C-Group, photo Friedrich Koch © Ägyptisches Museum – Georg Steindorff – der Universität Leipzig.

The crucial new contents of the book represent 40 analysed objects from the ancient Lower Nubian site of Aniba, in antiquity called Miam. It was one of the most important centres of the indigenous Nubian C-Group culture (Fig. 3). Then, it became a local centre of Egyptian “empire” in the New Kingdom, selected as the “colonial” capital of Lower Nubia. The corpus represents the largest analysed assemblage of copper alloy metalwork from ancient Nubia. Nubian copper alloy metalwork is not well researched. Neither of the latest handbooks of ancient Nubia (de Gruyter and Oxford) contain a specific chapter on it. However, our book builds on the latest research of the ceramics from Aniba, which radically changes the understanding of the Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom local chronology. Especially New Kingdom contexts from Aniba were heavily disturbed and mixed, long discussions of archaeological contexts and artefact parallels were needed in order to date the artefacts more precisely, establishing early New Kingdom dating for most of them. This is a reason why the book’s presentation of these results precedes any publication in a journal focused on archaeometry. Archaeology could not be omitted from the comprehension of the data. In the tough word-limits of the journals these facets could have been lost, buried in the online supplementary material, where nobody would read it or could properly react. The devil, and the proper contextual interpretation, was in the detail.

What is new in the book?

Old truths of Nubian and Egyptian archaeology are being shaken, and we hope that our research will contribute to this re-evaluation (however, out of necessity, the traditional terms are being used before the new ones will arise.) Just briefly summing up the most important results, copper alloy metalwork from the tumuli of Nubian C-Group can be dated earlier than previously thought, to the Twelfth (and Thirteenth) Dynasty of Egypt (c. 1939 – 1630 BC). Among the 10 analysed objects from the C-Group (and one Pan Grave tumulus) are three tin bronzes, which is unexpectedly high number for such early Middle Bronze Age sites. Especially battle axe ÄMUL 4697 becomes one of the earliest known tin bronzes of the Middle Kingdom (or even First Intermediate Period) Egypt (Fig. 4).

Figure 4: Full-size functional battle axe with haft ÄMUL 4697, drawn by Martin Černý based on drawing by Martin Odler © Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Czech Institute of Egyptology.
Figure 5: Dagger ÄMUL 3791 before the World War II, photo Friedrich Koch © Ägyptisches Museum – Georg Steindorff – der Universität Leipzig.

These objects were most probably imports as they have “Egyptian” forms, but it is hard to tell whether they were made in Egypt or in Nubia. The copper used was already mixed from various sources, e.g. Sinai and perhaps already Cyprus. The mixing of various sources of scrap metal was demonstrated for New Kingdom Egypt, our findings push similar use but of a different mixed copper one kingdom earlier – to the Middle Kingdom. Nevertheless, there are some unequivocal pieces of evidence that local copper ore from Nubia was used as well, and that metalwork from Nubia is slightly different from “regular” Egyptian products. Making these objects in Nubia, by Egyptians or Nubians trained in Egyptian metallurgy, cannot be ruled out. In our corpus one dagger from Upper Nubian Kerma was present, from very late Second Intermediate Period (c. 1539 BC; Fig. 5, 6). The only similar published lead isotope ratios of this dagger can be identified in the unmixed copper ore from the island of Cyprus (Fig. 7). Being a sole specimen, we cannot infer much more from it and we need to wait for more results of the studies of Kerman metalwork.

Figure 6: Left: full-size functional dagger blade ÄMUL 3791, photo by Jiří Kmošek Metallic microstructure of ÄMUL 3791 a: on back scattered electron image, author Jiří Kmošek; b: on optical microscope image, photo by Jiří Kmošek © Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Czech Institute of Egyptology.
Figure 7: Comparison of lead isotopic data of the studied artefacts from the Kerma culture and New Kingdom with ores, artefacts and slags from Cyprus, Lavrion, Anatolia, Timna and Feinan, Saudi Arabian Shield, Eastern Desert and Sinai Peninsula; references to the source data can be found in the text; visualization by Jiří Kmošek.

Another intriguing finding from our corpus is the ubiquity of tin bronzes used for the production of all forms of analysed objects in early New Kingdom, early Eighteenth Dynasty (c. 1539–1292 BC). The use of tin bronze was demonstrated for the metalwork of Amarna, but earlier well-dated substantial New Kingdom evidence was lacking. Interestingly, many artefacts from Aniba have their northernmost parallels in the Theban area. In addition to ceramics, which was similar to Thebes already in the Second Intermediate Period, this is another strand of evidence, connecting Aniba with Thebes, capital of all New Kingdom Egypt. The only analysed artefact from the Theban area in our corpus, model saw blade of Queen Hatshepsut, was made of New Kingdom mixed copper metal (Fig. 8). This mixed metal was also found in the bulk of the New Kingdom objects from Aniba. But we cannot yet definitely tell if the objects themselves were made in Thebes or in Aniba from this imported material (the latter being more probable option).

Figure 8: Model saw blade from the foundation deposit of Queen Hatshepsut ÄMUL 5075, drawn by Martin Černý based on drawing by Martin Odler © Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Czech Institute of Egyptology.
Figure 9: Full-size mirror disc with caryatid handle ÄMUL 2178, photo by Jiří Kmošek © Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Czech Institute of Egyptology.

Some remarkable objects were made of imported copper from Cyprus, without mixing with other sources, and these were also identified at Aniba. Surprisingly, not only there, at the cemetery of the capital of Lower Nubia. Intriguing is a rather humble pit burial from Egyptian Abusir, in the vicinity of Lake Abusir, which contained a ring with a cartouche of Thutmosis III, and now we know that also a mirror made of Cypriot copper (Fig. 9). What was the “biography” of the individual or the copper mirror buried there, we can only guess, but imports of copper from Cyprus are known from the reign of Thutmosis III. Thus, texts can be complemented by the archaeometallurgical information and the material can be tracked down even to the graves, which are otherwise not remarkable from the point of view of “big” history/archaeology. You could once read in an article on New Kingdom Nubia: “It is almost impossible to distinguish the imported objects from those locally made, and to use criteria of ‘quality’ is totally inadequate”. We have tried to demonstrate that both issues can be clarified if we listened to scientists.

Who is this book for?

Metal artefacts are often perceived in Egyptological research as mere illustrations of information gathered from the texts, reliefs and paintings, with a few notable exceptions in the literature, such as the catalogue of Egyptian axes in the British Museum. Our new book is for anyone who is interested in ancient Egypt and thinks that there is more to it than solely texts and reliefs. Our knowledge of the ancient Egyptian technology, especially in the case of copper, is still very disparate. It is honest to admit the circumstances and try to do as much as we can to change the situation. Otherwise, we will only repeat misunderstandings from the earlier literature.

What we have tried to show is that the interpretation of scientific results also depends on the background data of previous analyses, especially on the bodies of ore available in antiquity. They might have been depleted or the right batch was not yet analysed. Especially the use of lead isotopes in archaeology has its own complicated history and present, in which our research is also taking a part. Our interpretations are not set in stone and can change as new data will become available. ‘Discoveries’ of singular unique pieces are welcome, but more important is the understanding of all the material in our hands, in their contexts. Unique finds can be identified only on the background of the artefacts that are common, one cannot be understood without the other.

Research of our team continues, you can look forward to the publication of the article Arsenical copper tools of Old Kingdom Giza craftsmen: first data (authors Martin Odler, Jiří Kmošek, Marek Fikrle, Yulia V. Erban Kochergina), which was accepted by the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.


Martin Odler (Czech Institute of Egyptology, Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague) defended his PhD thesis The social context of copper in ancient Egypt down to the end of Middle Kingdom in 2020. In 2016, he published the monograph Old Kingdom Copper Tools and Model Tools, the first of its kind in Egyptology, with Archaeopress. In Abusir (Egypt), he led, together with Marie Peterková Hlouchová, an excavation of a new type of Egyptian tomb (AS 103) and of the latest known tomb of a transitional type from early Dynasty 4 (AS 104).

Jiří Kmošek (Institute of Natural Sciences and Technology in Arts, Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna) is an archaeometallurgist, a PhD candidate at the Institute for Natural Sciences and Technology in the Arts, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. He has analysed not only ancient Egyptian material but also Bronze Age metalwork from the Czech Republic.

Sincerest thanks to Martin and Jiří for taking the time to discuss their research on the Archaeopress Blog. Links to their book, Invisible Connections, can be found below. If you would like to submit an article for the blog, please contact Patrick Harris at patrick@archaeopress.com


Available Now:

Invisible Connections: An Archaeometallurgical Analysis of the Bronze Age Metalwork from the Egyptian Museum of the University of Leipzig (2020)
by Martin Odler and Jiří Kmošek
205x290mm; 200 pages; 176 figures, 15 tables

Paperback: £44.00 | PDF eBook: from £16.00

Also Available:

Old Kingdom Copper Tools and Model Tools (2016)
by Martin Odler
205x290mm, xvi+292 pages; illustrated throughout

Paperback: £45.00 | PDF eBook: from £16.00

Why Did Ancient States Collapse?

Malcolm Levitt suggests a generic multi-causal and dynamic framework to explain the collapse of ancient states

Dysfunctionality

Ancient states collapsed because they could not fulfil their core functions. This was because they failed to meet the conditions necessary to perform those functions. All this raises the questions of what those functions and necessary conditions were, and why they failed to meet them. Some readers might infer uncomfortable parallels with today’s societies or states but that theme is beyond the scope of this blog.

There is a considerable literature on the collapse of particular ancient states, much of it emphasising the role of a specific explanation for collapse. But mono-causal explanations are rarely sufficient and where multi-causal explanations are offered it is essential to analyse their dynamic interactions but relatively few studies do this. The aim here is to attempt a generic multi causal and dynamic framework to explain collapse.

We need to emphasise the importance of distinguishing between states and societies, a matter often bypassed by those who question the existence of collapse. States are institutionalised, centralised government structures whereas societies are the context of social structure, culture and common values in which states are moored. States can collapse as political entities while elements of their culture and values continue. To deny the collapse of the Western Roman Empire because elements of Roman culture thrived in Byzantium misses the point: states are political entities.

Ancient states were rooted in agriculture, sedentism and population growth. No state emerged without the presence of farming but farming is not a sufficient explanation of state formation: Mesopotamian crop management and animal husbandry long predated states. But grain especially was key to state formation, being taxable and useful paying soldiers and workmen. Growing population, enabled by improved diets, female energy and fertility, was the catalyst for state formation: meeting the demands for rising food production and distribution was beyond the management capacity of chieftains: assurance of food supplies was the founding core function of the bureaucratic state.

Nonetheless two routes to statehood were possible: consensus and egalitarianism or coercion and inequality; the latter tended to dominate or to supplant the former. They were fragile and prone to collapse.

Collapse

Sometimes explanations of collapse are seen as competing alternatives (such as intra-elite rivalry, invasion, popular uprisings) whereas they are not mutually exclusive in reality. Explanations of collapse in terms of competing mono-causal factors are inferior to those incorporating dynamic, interactive systems. In particular simultaneity is often ignored: where a factor is both determined by another and helps to determine the latter. Invasion might be induced by perceived military weakness in the invaded state but such weakness might be explained by loss of territory and part of the tax base to invaders and a vicious circle of fiscal depletion and dismemberment sets in. Natural catastrophe like drought, causing famine and popular unrest, might be exacerbated by neglect and mismanagement of key water infrastructures such as irrigation, flood control and grain and water storage. Diagram A illustrates such a model.

Diagram A. Collapse Explanations

Diagram A.jpg

Collapse should be explained as failure to fulfil the ancient state’s core functions: assurance of food supplies, defence against external attack, maintenance of internal peace, imposition of its will throughout its territory, maintenance of key civil and military infrastructures, enforcement of state-wide laws, and promotion of an ideology to legitimise the political and social status quo.

To fulfil these functions certain necessary conditions must be met. The legitimacy of the political and social status quo, including the distribution of political power and wealth, needs to be accepted; the state should be able to extract sufficient resources to fulfil its functions such as defence; it must be able to enforce its decisions; the ruling elite should share a common purpose and actions; the society needs to reflect a shared spirit (asibaya) and purpose across elites and commoners who believe it is worthy of defence.

Weaknesses and failure to meet any condition can interact to exacerbate the situation: maladministration, corruption and elite preoccupation with self-aggrandisement can induce fiscal weakness, reduced military budgets and further invasion; it can induce neglect of key infrastructures (especially water management). Inequality, a commonly neglected factor despite ancient texts, can erode asibaya and legitimacy and alienate commoners from defence of the state.

These themes are explored in relation to the Egyptian Old Kingdom, Mycenae, the Western Roman Empire (WRE), and the Maya. They all exhibit, to varying degrees, weaknesses in meeting the above conditions necessary for stability.

Although political collapse of the Old Kingdom is definite there is no consensus on the scope and severity of economic and cultural collapse. Drought, famine and intra-elite strife have been suggested as explanations for political collapse. Mass alienation and violence against the ruling elites has been suggested in ancient texts but their credibility is contentious. The evidence suggests systems failure and dysfunctionality including the incompetence and collapse of central authority and intra-elite strife (not least centre-provincial conflict); failure to finance and maintain key water management infrastructures by elites focussed on self enrichment; drought, the effects of which were exacerbated by that failure; loss of asibaya induced by huge inequality and the behaviour of selfish elites; and social conflict, possibly violent; loss of royal legitimacy in the face of drought despite the king’s supposed divine ability to guarantee rainfall and Nile flooding.

The political collapse of the Mycenaean palace states is beyond dispute. Some but not all aspects of their civilisation vanished. However, explanations of their political collapse (internal social strife including a Dorian peasant uprising, drought, invasion by Sea Peoples, earthquakes, intra-elite and interstate violent competition, and barbarian military technological advance) are particularly speculative because the very existence of possible explanatory factors is poorly demonstrated in the archaeological and written record, Homeric myth notwithstanding. Elements of the culture survived (religion, spoken language, some luxury artefact production) but others vanished, especially Linear B writing.

The WRE was dismantled by successive “Barbarian” invasions which should be regarded as factors in a dynamic systems collapse: unstable, ineffectual, corrupt governments, dynastic rivalry, intra-elite strife, economic and fiscal weakness and reduced military budgets induced barbarian invasion which further reduced the tax base and military funding. Aggressive imperial expansion itself had induced Germanic tribal coalescence which then exploited emerging Roman weakness and dismembered the WRE. The collapse graphically illustrates failure to meet the conditions needed for stability: effective defence against external attack, robust public finances, intra-elite cohesion, a society-wide spirit of asibaya – whereas the peasantry were impoverished and some collaborated with barbarian invaders or participated in Bacaudae armed rebellion ( the significance of which is disputed), commoner and elite acceptance of the legitimacy of the ruling regime, including willingness to support the state in the face of external attack.

The collapse of classic Maya states embraced the end of a political system and material culture but at different times in different places. Violent dynastic and intra-elite strife are probably sufficient to explain collapse; but they would have contributed to ineffectual responses to climate change, especially drought. Great inequality and peasant grievance, illustrated in ancient texts and by defacement of elite structures might suggest uprisings but such attacks on rich buildings and monuments might have followed collapse attributable to other reasons. Droughts arose at different times in different locations, although agriculture seems to have continued in some arid areas and evidence of drought in one place cannot explain collapse elsewhere. In short, ineffective government associated with internal strife along with droughts induced collapse but their relative contributions probably varied across the Maya states.

Inequality

Despite assertions by Aristotle and De Tocqueville that inequality is a factor in collapse, no analysis of inequality as an explanation of ancient collapse has been attempted or even suggested in recent publications on either ancient inequality or collapse. Evidence of inequality exists: house and skeletal size, and grave goods demonstrate ancient inequality. But grievance induced by inequality alone is insufficient to provoke successful challenge to authority; leadership, organisation and resources are also needed. They were conceivably provided by the WRE Bacaudae but their role in WRE collapse is disputed although written evidence suggests discontented peasants sometime welcomed and assisted barbarian invaders. Violence by the poor is suggested as a factor in Old Kingdom and Mycenaean collapse but the evidence is disputed in both cases. Minoan and Mayan evidence of damage to elite property exists but it is not known whether this preceded or followed collapse of authority. One Pueblo study demonstrates lagged correlation between peak inequality and peak violence but no examination of possible socially differentiated skeletal trauma was undertaken. Such research could produce useful evidence of possible social strife as a factor in collapse. Lack of such evidence could indicate lack of interest in inequality’s contribution to collapse or its genuine unavailability.

Conclusions

The distinction between states and societies or cultures is essential: the former, political entities can collapse but not necessarily the latter so to deny state collapse because of the continuation of cultural elements misses the point.

Mono- causal explanations of collapse are inadequate but to acknowledge multi-causality is insufficient unless a dynamic interaction between various explanatory factors is recognised.

States collapsed when they failed to fulfil their core functions because they did not meet the conditions necessary for a functioning stable state. Such pre-conditions include legitimacy, a common spirit of asibaya, ability to extract sufficient resources to maintain key infrastructures and services, intra-elite cohesion, and the ability to enforce decisions across its territory.

The publication, available in paperback and online as a free-to-download PDF eBook, presents four brief case studies to illustrate and confirm these hypotheses. The main findings are summarised in the tables below.

Table A. Summary of Evidence of Collapse

Table A.jpg

 Table B. Causes of Collapse

Table B.jpg

Header photo: Maya site of Quirigua, Guatemala © Malcolm Levitt

Buy the book

9781789693027.jpgWhy Did Ancient States Collapse? The Dysfunctional State by Malcolm Levitt. 2019. ISBN 9781789693027. (eBook ISBN 9781789693034).

203x276mm;56 pages; 4 tables, 1 diagram (black & white throughout)

Paperback: £18.00; PDF eBook: Free download

Buy in print edition or download PDF eBook for free at www.archaeopress.com

5,000-year-old exchange route between Egypt and Anatolia confirmed

Martin Odler of the Czech Institute of Egyptology presents the latest archaeometallurgical analysis of Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom Egyptian metalwork in the Egyptian Museum of Leipzig University

In March 2017, I wrote for the Archaeopress Blog about my book Old Kingdom Copper Tools and Model Tools, published by Archaeopress, with an accompanying promise to provide updates about further developments in our research in the future. The Journal of Archaeological Science has recently published the article “Invisible connections. Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom Egyptian metalwork in the Egyptian Museum of Leipzig University”.  This study moves further beyond typology, as our team has applied a wide range of archaeometallurgical methods to the assemblage. The first phase of the analysis of tools and model tools from Giza, currently deposited in the Egyptian Museum of Leipzig University (Germany), was presented already in the book, in this article other objects are added, as well as the results of the neutron activation analyses and lead isotope analyses.

The main surprise of the study was that a metal vessel deposited in a tomb at the Egyptian site Abusir 5,000 years ago was made of a material that was used concurrently in distant Anatolia (present-day Turkey). The article shows how far metals travelled in the third millennium BC.

The paper contains an in-depth analysis of 22 ancient Egyptian artefacts currently stored in the Egyptian Museum of Leipzig University (Fig. 1). The analytical work deepens our understanding of the use of copper in the Early Dynastic Period and the Old Kingdom. Egyptian copper metallurgy of the third millennium BC has been known only superficially until now.

Figure-1
Figure 1: The analysed assemblage of artefacts from the Egyptian Museum of Leipzig University (photo by Jiří Kmošek © Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Czech Institute of Egyptology).

The artefacts were found at the Egyptian sites of Abusir, Abydos and Giza. They were excavated in the royal tomb of King Khasekhemwy at Abydos (c. 2700 BCE) and non-royal tombs of officials from the Early Dynastic Period (Abusir; c. 3100–2900 BCE) and the Old Kingdom (Giza; c. 2350–2275 BCE).

The paper is innovative in the range of analyses used and their combination with Egyptological and archaeological information. The production methods were similar for all artefacts, which were hammered and annealed to their final shapes. They were made either from copper with minor impurities of other elements or from arsenical copper, the most frequently used alloy in the ancient Near East in the third millennium BC. As lead was present in minute traces in all the artefacts, lead isotope analysis has been used to indicate the origin of the ores.

As the title suggests, the analyses have revealed “invisible connections” between the regions where the ore was mined and those where the artefacts were deposited. The ore coming from the Sinai Peninsula has been expected and confirmed, as it was the most frequent target of ancient Egyptian expeditions with many ancient Egyptian mining expedition inscriptions. A not at all negligible amount of ore originated from the Eastern Desert of Egypt. There are not many inscriptions in that area, but the archaeological research of the past two decades has identified many mining sites, and analyses have now confirmed that the ore was indeed used by ancient Egyptians.

Figure-2
Figure 2: The Dynasty-1 bowl from Abusir (ÄMUL 2162; photo by Jiří Kmošek © Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Czech Institute of Egyptology).

image description
Figure 3: Abusir, Bonnet cemetery, where the vessel ÄMUL 2162 has been found (after Hans Bonnet, Ein frühgeschichtliches Gräberfeld bei Abusir. Hinrichs’sche Buchhandlung, Leipzig 1928, Taf. I).

The greatest surprise was a large bowl from a Dynasty-1 tomb at Abusir (Fig. 2, 3). It is peculiar by its contents of arsenic (1.4%) and nickel (4.8%), very unusual for that period in Egypt. The lead isotope ratios match Anatolian ores and are similar to contemporary Early Bronze Age Anatolian artefacts, in a distance more than 1,500 kilometres (Fig. 4).

image description
Figure 4: Map of the important sites, AMUL marks the sites, from where the examined artefacts were coming, CuAsNi marks the sites, where objects with high nickel and arsenic occurred in Chalcolitic and Early Bronze Age. Mapped onto Natural Earth in qGIS by Martin Odler.

The vessel was most probably made in Egypt, but the ore or metal ingot must have travelled from far away. Although this is most probably not an evidence of direct contact between the two regions, special metals had circulated around the ancient Near East earlier than previously thought.

The project will continue with the evaluation and publication of data from another important corpus stored in Leipzig: bronze artefacts from the Second Intermediate Period and the New Kingdom site Aniba in Nubia.

The authors of the article are archaeometallurgist Jiří Kmošek from the Department of Chemical Technology, Faculty of Restoration, University of Pardubice; Egyptologist Martin Odler from the Czech Institute of Egyptology, Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague; and two physicists, Marek Fikrle from the Nuclear Physics Institute, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and Yulia V. Kochergina from the Czech Geological Survey. In the same issue of the journal is also included an article of the Belgian team about the research of Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom metalwork in Brussels and a third piece, commenting both articles.

For further information regarding the articles mentioned above please consult the Elsevier Press Release by following this link.

9781784914424Sincerest thanks to Martin for fulfilling his promise to update us on his future research following the publication of his book in 2016. Read Martin’s earlier Blog Post here.

Buy the book:

Old Kingdom Copper Tools and Model Tools by Martin Odler. Archaeopress Egyptology 14, 2016.

Paperback: ISBN 9781784914424, £45.

PDF eBook: ISBN 9781784914431, £16 +VAT.