Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory


1 July 2013

Shaping Bronze by Heat and Hammer: An Experimental Reproduction of Minoan Copper Alloy Forming Techniques

Nerantzis Nerantzis Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 12.2 (2012): 237-247.


The compositions of copper-base tools, weapons, ornaments and ceremonial metalwork from numerous Late Bronze Age Aegean sites reveal a pattern of specific alloy combinations for the fabrication of certain classes of objects. Thus the majority of weapons and tools were made of high tin bronze whereas bronze statuettes, tripods and cauldrons contain small amounts of lead and in some cases tin is present in low amounts. Such diversity reflects the direct relationship between the compositions of prehistoric bronze objects and the art of their fabrication, because both the alloy additions and the impurities exert a pronounced effect on the forming capacity of alloys. In order to understand the correlation between composition and formability of Minoan bronzes, replica compositions with varying tin and lead contents were experimentally reproduced and their forming capacities were tested. Deformation and heat treatment of five tin and two leaded tin bronze alloys was attempted in order to replicate the forming stages for the shaping of cutting tools and bronze sheet for vessels and cauldrons. The amount of cold-working and annealing intervals, required to test the effects of workability on alloy properties, has been reflected as hardness values and transformations of the structural characteristics for each sample. It has been shown through the course of the experiment that high tin bronzes could be formed by frequent, short annealing stages at 600˚C and that it is possible to work-harden leaded bronze as long as time and temperatures are closely monitored.

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