Researchers have made an astonishing discovery that is transforming our understanding of the Bronze Age . They have established that ancient tin ingots found in Israel actually came from what is now modern-day Britain. Experts believe that they have found proof that tin was traded over long distances some 3,000 years ago. Moreover, the researchers may have solved the mystery of the origin of the tin that was so vital for Bronze Age cultures.
Researchers in Heidelberg University and the Curt Engelhorn Centre for Archaeometry in Mannheim have been investigating the origins of the tin ingots from the Bronze Age. They were discovered by marine archaeologists off the coast of Israel.
Tin From the British Isles
The researchers established that the “3,000-year-old tin ingots found in Israel are actually from Cornwall and Devon” reports the Daily Mail . These areas are in southwest Britain and were the sites of tin mines until modern times. The experts then analyzed tin ingots that were found in Greece and Turkey and they discovered that they had also come from Devon and Cornwall.
The original discovery of the tin ingots. ( PLOS ONE )
Tin was essential in the Bronze Age . This is because bronze, is an alloy of cooper and tin. The ability to make bronze transformed societies and the technology to make the metal was distributed all over the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. The Angle News quotes Dr. Ernst Pernicka, a retired professor from Heidelberg University, as stating that “Bronze was used to make weapons, jewelry, and all types of daily objects , justifiably bequeathing its name to an entire epoch”.
Bronze Age Mystery – The Source of Tin
However, deposits of tin are very rare in much of the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean. The question that arose for archaeologists was where did the tin originate from that was used to make bronze?
The source of the metal has been a mystery for decades and some have argued that it came from Central Asia. The researchers, based on their findings, believe that they have solved this mystery. Dr. Daniel Berger stated that, “These results specifically identify the origin of tin metal for the first time” according to the Daily Mail .
Map of Eurasia showing the locations of the tin ingots mentioned in the study (green dots), other tin objects in the eastern Mediterranean and the Near East before 1,000 BC (yellow dots), and major and minor tin deposits. ( PLOS ONE )
Based on the findings it seems that the tin was formed into ingots and exported from Devon and Cornwall. Given the limited technology at the time and the lack of roads, the most plausible way for the ingots to have reached modern-day Israel was by sea.
It seems that “the British Isles had developed maritime trade routes with the rest of the world as early as the Bronze Age ” according to the Daily Mail . These trade routes were probably very complex and covered great distances.
Bronze Age Trade
Tin was essential for societies in the eastern Mediterranean and there would have been a great demand for high-quality tin, and this would have encouraged the development of international trade routes. This could have led mariners to travel great distances to secure the metal.
The trade in tin ingots was probably very dangerous but also very profitable. Other materials that were likely traded along these international trade networks were amber, copper, and luxury items . The fact that Bronze Age merchants could trade over vast distances shows that they were proficient sailors.
Bronze age artifacts which tin was vital for production. (Grampus / Public Domain )
The findings of the research are very important and allow us to have new insights into trade in the distant past. It identifies for the first time the origin of the tin, that was so important in the Bronze Age. It strongly indicates that international trade was much more advanced, 3,000 years ago, than widely supposed. The results could also guide archaeological research in the future.
Top image: Tin ingots from Hishuley Carmel. Source: PLOS ONE
By Ed Whelan