Home Career Finds from 2,000-year-old Uluburun shipwreck reveal complex trade network – ScienceDaily

Finds from 2,000-year-old Uluburun shipwreck reveal complex trade network – ScienceDaily


More than 2,000 years before the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic, another famous ship carrying tons of rare metal was wrecked in the Mediterranean Sea off the eastern shores of Uluburun – in present-day Turkey. Since its discovery in 1982, scholars have studied the contents of the Uluburun shipwreck to better understand the people and political organizations that dominated the time period known as the Late

Now a team of scientists, including Michael Frachetti, professor of archeology of arts and sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, has made a surprising discovery: small communities of high-altitude pastoralists living in what is now Uzbekistan in Central Asia produced and supplied about one-third of the tin found on board the ship was tin that was bound for markets throughout the Mediterranean to be turned into the coveted bronze metal.

A study published on November 30 in Achievements of sciencemade possible by advances in geochemical analysis that allowed researchers to determine with high confidence that some of the tin came from a prehistoric mine in Uzbekistan, more than 2,000 miles from Haifa, where the ill-fated vessel loaded its cargo.

But how could that be? During this period, the mining regions of Central Asia were occupied by small communities of mountain herders – far from a major industrial center or empire. And the terrain between the two locations – which runs through Iran and Mesopotamia – was rugged, which would have made it extremely difficult to move tons of heavy metal.

Frachetti and other archaeologists and historians were brought in to help put the pieces of the puzzle together. Their findings revealed a shockingly complex supply chain that involved multiple stages to get the tin from a small community of miners to the Mediterranean market.

“It appears that these local miners had access to extensive international networks and – through overland trade and other forms of communication – were able to transfer this very important commodity all the way to the Mediterranean,” Frachetti said.

“It is very surprising to learn that a culturally diverse, multi-regional and multi-vector trade system underpinned Eurasian tin exchange in the Late Bronze Age.”

Adding further mystique is the fact that mining appears to have been run by small local communities or free laborers who negotiated the market outside the control of kings, emperors or other political entities, Frachetti said.

“To put that in perspective, that would be the commercial equivalent of the entire United States getting its energy needs from a small oil rig in the middle of Kansas,” he said.

About research

According to Wayne Powell, professor of earth and environmental sciences at Brooklyn College and lead author of the study, the idea of ​​using tin isotopes to determine the place of origin of the metal in archaeological artifacts emerged in the mid-1990s. However, the technologies and methods of analysis were not precise enough to provide clear answers. Only in the last few years have scientists begun using tin isotopes to directly correlate mining sites with groups of metal artifacts, he said.

“Over the past couple of decades, scientists have gathered information about the isotopic composition of tin ore deposits around the world, their ranges and overlaps, and the natural mechanisms by which the isotopic compositions were imparted to cassiterite as it formed,” Powell said. “We are still in the early stages of this kind of research. I expect that in the years to come, this ore deposit database will become quite as reliable as the Pb isotope database today, and this method will be used routinely.”

Aslihan K. Yener, a research fellow at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World and professor emeritus of archeology at the University of Chicago, was one of the first researchers to conduct isotopic analysis of lead. In the 1990s, Yener was part of the research team that conducted the first lead isotope analysis of Uluburun tin. This analysis showed that the Uluburun tin could have come from two sources – the Kestel Mine in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey and some unspecified location in Central Asia.

“But this was rejected because the analysis measured traces of lead and did not determine the origin of the tin,” said Yener, who is a co-author of the study.

Yener was also the first to discover tin in Turkey in the 1980s. At the time, she said, the entire scientific community was amazed that it existed right under their noses, where the earliest tin bronze was occurring.

Some 30 years later, researchers finally have a more definitive answer thanks to improved methods of tin isotope analysis: one-third of the tin aboard the Uluburun shipwreck came from the Mushistan mine in Uzbekistan. The remaining two-thirds of the tin was extracted from the Kestel mine in ancient Anatolia, which is located in modern Turkey.

The findings allow a glimpse into life 2,000 plus years ago

By 1500 BC. bronze was the “high technology” of Eurasia, used in everything from weapons to luxuries, tools, and utensils. Bronze is mainly made from copper and tin. While copper is fairly common and can be found throughout Eurasia, tin is much rarer and only found in certain types of geological deposits, Frachetti said.

“Finding tin was a big problem for prehistoric states. And so the big question was how these major Bronze Age empires fueled their huge demand for bronze, given the lengths and pains it took to acquire tin as such a rare commodity. Researchers have been trying to explain it for decades,” Frachetti said.

The Uluburun ship yielded the world’s largest collection of unwrought Bronze Age metals – enough copper and tin to produce 11 metric tons of bronze of the highest quality. Had it not been lost at sea, there would have been enough metal to arm an army of nearly 5,000 Bronze Age soldiers with swords, “not to mention many wine jugs,” Fraccetti said.

“The present findings illustrate a complex international trade operation that involved regional actors and socially diverse participants who produced and traded essential solid-earth goods throughout the Late Bronze Age political economy from Central Asia to the Mediterranean,” Frachetti said.

Unlike the mines in Uzbekistan, which were located in a network of small villages and mobile herders, the mines in ancient Anatolia in the Late Bronze Age were under the control of the Hittites, a global imperial power that posed a major threat to Ramses the Great. of Egypt, Yener explained.

The findings also show that life more than 2,000 years ago was no different from today.

“With the disruptions caused by COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine, we have realized how dependent we are on complex supply chains to sustain our economy, our military and our standard of living,” Powell said. “This is also true in prehistory. Kingdoms rose and fell, climates changed, and new peoples migrated across Eurasia, potentially disrupting or redistributing access to tin, which was important for both weapons and agricultural implements.

“Using tin isotopes, we can look at each of these archaeologically evident disruptions in society and see where connections have been broken, preserved or redefined. We already have DNA analysis to show relational links. Pottery, burial customs, etc. illustrate the transmission and communication of ideas. Now, with tin isotopes, we can document the connectivity of long-distance trade networks and their sustainability.”

More study tips

The current research results resolve a long-standing debate about the origin of the metal at the Uluburun Shipwreck and the Eurasian Tin Exchange in the Late Bronze Age. But there are still many clues to explore.

Once mined, the metals were processed for transport and finally melted down into standardized forms – known as ingots – for transport. The distinct shapes of the ingots served as calling cards for traders to know where they came from, Frachetti said.

Many of the ingots aboard the Uluburun ship were in the form of “cowhide”, which was previously thought to have come from Cyprus. However, modern findings indicate that the cowhide form may have originated further east. Frachetti said he and other researchers plan to continue studying the unique shapes of the ingots and how they were used in trade.

In addition to Frechetti, Powell, and Yener, the following researchers contributed to this study: Kemal Pulakat of Texas A&M University, H. Arthur Bankoff of Brooklyn College, Gojka Bariamovic of Harvard University, Michael Johnson of Stell Environmental Enterprises, Ryan Mathur of Juniata College, Vincent S. Pigott at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, and Michael Price at the Santa Fe Institute.

The research was funded in part by a New York University Professional Staff Congressional Research Award in addition to a research grant from the Institute of Aegean Prehistory.

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