Rise of Metallurgy Project finds earliest tin-bronze in Serbia | archaeometallurgy

earliest tin-bronze discovered

Bastian Asmus

Another superlative from in Pločnik in Serbia: This time the team of the Rise of Metallurgy project has found evidence for the earliest known tin-bronze. The recovered artefact, a thin sheet bronze fragment, is at least 6500 years old and consists of a copper-tin alloy with 11 wt% tin, and a number of minor elements . Archaeologists call copper alloys with zinc brass, all others are often labelled as bronze. In order to clarify that it is bronze in the sense of the modern definition, in archaeological texts it is often referred to  as tin-bronze. Alloys with arsenic are called in the rest of the best arsenical copper.Radivojević and colleagues entertain the hypothesis that the chemical composition of the find is due to ore, which was used in addition to the malachite commonly used in Pločnik and other Vinča find sites (Radivojeić et al 2010). This addition is said to be stannite, a copper – iron-tin sulphide (Cu2FeSnS4 ). The idea that Stannite could play a  more substantial role in the history of metallurgy, was already postulated in 1978 by , as well as , however its use has not yet been proven. , too  cannot provide direct evidence that this has was the case either, however their argument is worth contemplating and their reasoning however can be followed.  It is quite likely that stannite was smelted as part of the copper ore charge. In support of this hypothesis analyses of another dozen find objects are presented, although it must be noted  that these do not possess a proper dating; only the bronze sheet can be be solidly dated to the 5th millennium BC. The other finds do indicate chemical similarities but may only be addressed as chalkolithic.

The various malachite varieties prove that Vinča people had experience in dealing with ores, and futher proves that the a production of either beads or metal was based on the properties of the raw materials.  Purer Malachite was used for the production of beads. Less pure malachite, dubbed tainted ores by the authors due to its admixture with manganese compounds, was used for smelting. Those  levels of manganese can be traced in the silicate slag again .
What is really amazing is that in the Balkans of the 5th millennium BC, an independent, very complex bronze metallurgy developed, which left no traces in the metallurgy of the region after the disappearance of the Vinča and Varna cultures. Currently it certaily seems that tin -bronze disappears for one and half millenia before it emerges again in human history.


Charles, J. A. (1978). The development of the usage of tin and tin-bronze: some problems. In A. D. Franklin, J. S. Olin, & T. A. Wertime (Eds.), The Search for Ancient Tin: A Seminar. Smithsonian Institution Press; 25--32.
Radivojević, M., Rehren, T., Kuzmanović-Cvetković, J., Jovanović, M., & Northover, P. J. (2013). Tainted ores and the rise of tin bronzes in Eurasia, c. 6500 years ago. Antiquity, 87(December), 1030--1045. http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/087/ant0871030.htm
Radivojević, M., Rehren, T., Pernicka, E., Šljivar, D., Brauns, M., & Borić, D. (2010). On the origins of extractive metallurgy: new evidence from Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science, 37, 2775--2787.
Wertime, T. A. (1978). The search for ancient tin: the geographic and historic boundaries. In A. D. Franklin, J. S. Olin, & T. A. Wertime (Eds.), The Search for Ancient Tin: A Seminar (pp. 1–6). Smithsonian Institution Press; 1-6.

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