The Beginnings of Metallurgy: A New Look

Science  30 Nov 1973:
Vol. 182, Issue 4115, pp. 875-887
DOI: 10.1126/science.182.4115.875


In the 9 years since my first survey of early metallurgy appeared in this journal (65) metallurgy has become a major battleground between those who argue independent invention and those who argue diffusion in the evolution of urban civilization. In this new article I contend that:

1) The upland belt and debouching river valleys of southwestern Asia have a clear priority in the beginnings of copper metallurgy and extractive metallurgy generally, suggesting that the forces of urbanization contributing to the rise of metallurgy there were more massive, widespread, and better integrated than elsewhere.

2) The trend to polymetallism, against the background of pyrotechnology generally and the other important technologies of urbanism, established a necessary sequence to early metallurgy. This sequence was a prerequisite to the coming of the Iron Age, which was uniquely contained at first within the environment of Anatolia and the eastern Mediterranean and spread outward from there.

3) The course of metallurgy and possibly of the other urbanizing technologies can best be understood through a process of diffusion and multiple innovation interrelating metallurgical evolution over much of Eurasia, but with the area defined by the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Red Sea, and the eastern Mediterranean as its center. Only in this fashion can we place metallurgy in its proper role as an important subsystem in the rise of civilization.