Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
Question & A New Answer
Nezafati, Ernst Pernicka & Morteza Momenzadeh
earliest appearance of tin bronze in Western Asia has been
reported from Mesopotamia (Tepe Gawra, Kish, Ur, and Tell Judeidah)
and southwestern Iran (Susa) and Luristan in west central Iran (Kalleh
Nissar) in the late fourth and the beginning of the third
millennium BCE, whereas the extensive use of tin and tin bronze
can be dated around the mid-third millennium over a large area
extending from the Persian Gulf to the Aegean (Pernicka et al.
1984, Stech & Pigott 1986, Weeks 1999, Fleming et al.
2005). Since Mesopotamia, the Khuzestan plain and Luristan all
lack metallic resources, ancient metallurgists depended on their
adjacent mineral-rich neighbouring regions including the Iranian
plateau for the supply of raw materials (Figure 1). The fact that
metals and other materials had to be imported from the east or the
south is repeatedly mentioned in the cuneiform texts from
Mesopotamia. Despite the wealth of base and precious metal
resources on the Iranian plateau, no tin deposits have been
reported from this region, which could explain the huge bronze
production in the Bronze and Iron Ages.
Figure 1. Approximate location of
Bronze and Iron Age sites and Deh Hosein. Click to enlarge.
Figure 2. Location and simplified
geological map of the ancient mining area at Deh Hosein. Click to
ancient mine at Deh Hosein
investigated the newly discovered ancient copper-tin mine at Deh
Hosein (Momenzadeh et al. 2005) and several bronze
artefacts of typical Luristan style (Overlaet 2004) and dating
most probably to the Iranian Iron Age from about 1300/1250 to 650
BC. The results were compared with analyses of other bronze
artefacts previously published in order to find a possible
relationship. The ancient mine at Deh Hosein (Figure 2) is located
c. 45 km southwest of Arak city in the eastern part of the central
Zagros Mountains which form the north-eastern border of Luristan.
The ancient workings appear as numerous big ellipsoidal open
depressions in two rows along the mineralized horizons,
distributed over an area of 4.5 x 6 km2. The old
workings are up to 70 by 50m in size and up to 15m deep and are
aligned over some 500m (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Part of ancient workings at
Deh Hosein. Click to enlarge.
hammer stones of silicified phyllite and granite, pottery sherds
and grinding stones have been found in the open-cast mines and
adjacent ancient settlements (Figure 4). The pottery sherds can be
dated to the early first millennium BCE. Pieces of charcoal found
in one of the excavations yielded a radiocarbon date of 3380 ±
55, which on calibration (2σ) results in an age range of
1775-1522 BCE. Since the sample derives from an intermediate layer
of the mine, the earliest mining activity can be even older.
mineralisation at Deh Hosein occurs in the form of quartz and
quartz-sulfide veins and veinlets as well as disseminated and
impregnated in meta-sandstone, phyllite, schist and spotted slate
intersected by quartzitic veins. Field survey and ore microscopy
have revealed over 30 ore minerals including: arsenopyrite, native
copper, copper sulfide minerals, galena, pyrite and cassiterite (Nezafati
et al. 2005). In addition, heavy mineral prospection in the
streams of the ancient mining area by Zaryaban Exploration
revealed nuggets of cassiterite.
Figure 4. A hammer stone from ancient
excavations. Click to enlarge.
of 17 ore samples from Deh Hosein by neutron activation analysis
and 29 bronze artefacts from Luristan by energy-dispersive X-ray
fluorescence analysis revealed that the metal content of the ore
is as much as 6.7%, 10%, 23.9%, 3.7%, 0.75%, and 13.3 ppm for Sn,
Cu, As, Pb, Zn, and Au, respectively, whereas the Luristan bronzes
show variable concentrations of As, Pb, Zn and Fe in addition to
high concentrations of tin (0.48-15.4%). The ore composition of
Deh Hosein is matched by several bronze artefacts from Luristan
analysed in this study as well as in previous investigations
(Fleming et al. 2005).
more noteworthy is the observation that the lead isotope ratios of
18 ore samples from Deh Hosein plot within a narrow range from
18.415 to 18.547 for 206Pb/204Pb, 0.8438 to
0.8494 for 207Pb/206Pb and 2.0901 to 2.0959
for 208Pb/206Pb (Figure 5) and that these
results are in very good agreement with 25 samples of metal
artefacts from Luristan and other bronze artefacts dated to the
third millennium BCE from the southern Persian Gulf (Weeks 1999),
the Aegean (Begemann et al. 1992), as well as from third
millennium BCE sites in Luristan and Mesopotamia (Begemann &
Schmitt-Strecker in preparation).
Figure 5. Three isotope plot of lead
in ore samples from Deh Hosein in comparison with bronze artefacts
from Luristan, Mesopotamia, UAE, and the Aegean. The error bars
show the 2&sigma uncertainty. Note that the scale of the
diagram is greatly expanded. A similarly good match is also
observed in plots including 204Pb. Click to enlarge.
we have found several indications that Deh Hosein may have been a
major supplier of tin for ancient civilisations of Iran and
Mesopotamia and perhaps even further west beginning in the third
millennium BCE: In summary:
i) The lead isotope compatibility of ores from Deh Hosein with
many bronze artefacts from Bronze and Iron Age sites distributed
from the southern Persian Gulf to the Aegean is good.
ii) This is combined with a good match for trace element patterns
of ores and artefacts.
iii) Copper and tin occur within one mineralisation.
iv) Ancient textual references mention tin and bronze supply from
regions east of Mesopotamia.
v) The dating of surface finds of pottery and charcoal finally
supports our findings. At present Deh Hosein is the only tin
occurrence close to Luristan and Mesopotamia. However, it is
possible that further ancient tin mines may be discovered in the
northern part of the Sanandaj-Sirjan zone, located in a similar
acknowledge financial support from the German Academic Exchange
Service (DAAD) and from the Zaryaban Exploration Co. We thank
Bernd Höppner for analytical help, Thomas Stöllner for providing
the radiocarbon date and Friedrich Begemann for helpful
discussions and permission to use unpublished data.
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Nezafati: Institute of Prehistoric Archaeology, University of
Tuebingen, Schloss Hohentuebingen, D-72070 Tuebingen, Germany
Ernst Pernicka (corresponding author): Institute of
Prehistoric Archaeology, University of Tuebingen, Schloss
Hohentuebingen, D-72070 Tuebingen, Germany (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Morteza Momenzadeh: Zarneh Research Institute, 34 Forth 12m
Street, Jenah Highway, Tehran, Iran (Email: email@example.com).
Vol 80 No 308 June 2006
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