Archaeologists first found a copper-smelting hearth in the Bronze Age mine in the Southern Trans-Urals

(ORDO NEWS) — Archaeologists have discovered for the first time in the Southern Trans-Urals the remains of a copper-smelting hearth in a Bronze Age mine, which was left by the bearers of the Sintashta or Abashev cultures.

The study showed that at the turn of the 3rd-2nd millennium BC it was used to smelt pure copper at a high temperature, reaching 1400-1500 degrees Celsius. This is reported in an article published in the journal Volga Archeology.

Around the 21st-18th centuries BC, the Sintashta archaeological culture existed in the steppes of the Southern Urals and Northern Kazakhstan, which is known primarily due to 24 large fortified settlements and burial mounds.

On the territory of the settlements there were frame-pillar dwellings ranging from 80 to 240 square meters, which were conditionally divided into residential and economic zones. Burial grounds were usually located on the opposite bank of the rivers from the settlement.

Their research showed a complex ritual and provided rich material, including numerous weapons, tools, jewelry, ritual and household items, as well as the oldest chariots in the world. The Sintashta economy was based on cattle breeding and metallurgy, but there is evidence of their familiarity with agriculture and hunting.

At about the same time, around 2140-1740 BC, the Abashevskaya archaeological culture existed in the territory from the Lower Poochya to the upper Urals. The Abashevites were also mainly engaged in cattle breeding, but they also knew agriculture.

Some Abashevo settlements yielded significant material remains, including evidence of metallurgy – fragments of ore, fragments of smelting furnaces, foundry molds, as well as metal drops and slags.

It seems that it was the Abashevites who were the first to develop non-ferrous metal deposits in the Urals, from which they made, in particular, knives, daggers, chisels, axes, arrowheads, and jewelry. One of the striking features of this culture is the belief system, in which an important place was given to the cults of fire and the sun.

Archaeologists first found a copper smelting hearth in the Bronze Age mine in the Southern Trans Urals 2
Discovered remains of a copper smelter

Polina Ankusheva (Polina Ankusheva) from the South Ural State Humanitarian and Pedagogical University, together with her colleagues from the Urals, explored the copper furnace, which was discovered during excavations of the ancient mine Novotemirsky, located in the Chesmensky district of the Chelyabinsk region.

The forge was a rounded spot with a diameter of about 60-65 centimeters, in the filling of which archaeologists found 21 fragments of ceramics, metal slags and fragments of animal bones. The scientists took nine slag samples and ten soil samples from the hearth filling and beyond.

Using X-ray fluorescence analysis, the researchers found that the soil from the forge contained high concentrations of copper, nickel, chromium and iron.

The scientists noted that the found furnace for smelting is similar to those found at the fortified settlements of the Sintashta culture – in Arkaim, Sintashta and Ustye, as well as at the sites of the Abashev, Alakul and Srubna cultures. These were the forges of the pit-dome type, the depth of which was 30–40 centimeters, and the diameter was 40–60 centimeters.

In filling the hearth, scientists found 249 fragments of slag weighing 264 grams. Analyzes have shown that they are composed of olivine (about 40-45 percent), magnetite (about 40-50 percent), pyroxene and glass (about 5-10 percent in total).

In addition, in the slag, for example, there were drops of metallic copper and chalcocite, as well as single grains of quartz and chrome spinels. Using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, they found that the metal droplets were mostly pure copper. Iron, nickel, arsenic, and cobalt impurities were less common.

Archaeologists first found a copper smelting hearth in the Bronze Age mine in the Southern Trans Urals 3
Fragments of pottery found in the hearth filling

The researchers found that at the turn of the III-II millennium BC, the ancient metallurgists of the Southern Urals smelted ore at a high temperature, which reached 1400-1500 degrees Celsius.

The territorial and chronological localization allowed archaeologists to assume that the find is associated with the Sintashta culture. However, scientists noted that the mineralogical features of the slag find their parallels with the monuments of the Abashevskaya culture.

This accessory can also be indicated by ceramics found in the forge, which was made with an admixture of crushed shells.

At the same time, archaeologists concluded that in the Bronze Age, metal smelting in the Southern Trans-Urals was carried out not only in settlements, but could also take place directly next to copper deposits.


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