Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 15–31 | Cite as

Investigation of early Bronze Age civilizations in Yunnan: a scientific analysis of metallurgical relics found at the Guangfentou ruins in Jiangchuan

  • Guisen Zou
  • Jianfeng CuiEmail author
  • Xu Liu
  • Xiaorui Li
  • Rui Min
Original Paper


We herein report on an examination of the compositions of copper relics unearthed from the Guangfentou site in Jiangchuan, Yunnan, China. Scanning electron microscopy combined with energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SED-EDS), metallographic microscopy, and lead isotope ratio analysis were used to analyze 20 metallurgical relics. The results indicated that the relics were either copper metal or copper slag. The copper metal was composed of either metallic copper or tin bronze, while the copper slags were either smelting slag or melting slag, with the melting slags being composed of refining or alloying slag. The Guangfentou site in the Jiangchuan county contains an extraordinarily complete set of bronze metallurgical relics from the Bronze Age of Yunnan. The processes involved in this site include smelting of sulfidic ores, refining of primary raw copper, bronze alloying, and bronze casting. This was an important metallurgical site in the ancient Dian Kingdom and has provided clues that will aid in efforts to reveal the origins of bronze smelting technologies and the sources of the copper ores used by the ancient Dian civilization.


Archaeometallurgy Guangfentou site Copper slags Bronze culture Dian Kingdom 



This research was supported by the National High-Level Personnel Special Support Program (Ten Thousand Talents Program), the “Young Talents Program” sponsored by the Beijing City School of Higher Education, and the National Social Science Fund (project approval number 15ZDB057, “Research on Porcelain Exported from Ancient China Unearthed in Africa and the Maritime Silk Road”). We would also like to thank Professor Li Yanxiang and Dr. Liu Siran from the University of Science and Technology, Beijing for their guidance in our experiments and the process of writing this paper. We also thank Professor Wu Xiaohong and Senior Engineer Huang Baoling from Peking University for their support during this study.


  1. Allard F (1998) Stirrings at the periphery: history, archaeology and the study of Dian. Antiquity 2(4):321–341Google Scholar
  2. Avetisyan HK (1954) Metallurgiya chernovoi medi. Moscow, Metallurgiya, pp 1–464 (in Russian)Google Scholar
  3. Bachmann HG (1982) The Identification of slags from archaeological sites. Institute of Archaeology, LondonGoogle Scholar
  4. Brill RH, Wampler JM (1965) Isotope studies of ancient lead. Am J Archaeol 69:165–166Google Scholar
  5. Carlotta F, Martinón-Torres M, Álvarez DG (2017) Bronze production in the Iron Age of the Iberian Peninsula: the case of El Castru, Vigaña (Asturias, NWSpain). J Archaeol Sci Rep 11:338–351Google Scholar
  6. Chakraborti N, Lynch DC (1983) Thermodynamics of roasting arsenopyrite. Metallurgical Tansactions B 14B:239–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cooke SRB, Nielsen BV (1978) Excavations at Nichoria in Southwest Greece site, environs and techniques Vol. 1. In: Rapp G Jr, Arschenbrenner SE (eds) Slags and other metallurgical products. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, pp 182–224Google Scholar
  8. Craddock PT (1995) Early metal mining and production. Edinburgh University Press, EdinburghGoogle Scholar
  9. Crew P, Rehren T (2002) High-temperature workshop residues from Tara: iron, bronze and glass. Discov Program Rep 6:83–103Google Scholar
  10. Cui JF, Wu XH (2008) The study of lead-isotope archaeology: provenance study of bronze artefacts unearthed from Yunnan Province, China and Vietnam. Cultural Relics Press, Beijing(in Chinese)Google Scholar
  11. Dungworth D (2000) Serendipity in the foundry? Tin oxide inclusions in copper and copper alloys as an indicator of production process. Bull Metals Mus 32:1–5Google Scholar
  12. Eliyahu-Behar A, Yahalom-Mack N, Shilstein S, Zukerman A, Shafer-Elliott C, Maeir AM, Boaretto E, Finkelstein I, Weiner S (2012) Iron and bronze production in Iron Age IIA Philistia: new evidence from Tell es-Safi/Gath. Israel J Archaeol Sci 39:255–267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Figueiredo E, Silva RJC, Senna-Martinez JC, Fatima Araujo M, Bras Fernandes FM, Ines Vaz JL (2010) Smelting and recycling evidences fomthe Late Bronze Age habitat site of Baioes (Viseu, Portugal). J Archaeol Sci 37:1623–1634CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Grögler N, Geiss J, Grünenfelder M, Houtermans FG (1966) Isotopenuntersuchungen zur Bestimmung der Herkunft römischer Bleirohre und Bleibarren. Z Naturforsch 21a:1167–1172Google Scholar
  15. Hanning E, Gauss R, Goldenberg G (2010) Metal from Zambujal: experimentally reconstructing a 5000-year-old technology. Trab Prehist 67:287–304CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hauptmann A (2003) Archaeometallurgy in Europe. Proceedings International Conference. In: Rationales of liquefaction and metal separation in earliest copper smelting: basics for reconstructing Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age smelting processes. Associazione Italiana Metallurgia, Milan, pp 459–468Google Scholar
  17. Hauptmann A (2007) The archaeometallurgy of copper. Springer Berlin, Heidelberg, 103(2):423–424Google Scholar
  18. Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology (1987) The cast copper base of Erligang in the Shang dynasty in Zhengzhou. Cultural Relics Press, Beijing(in Chinese)Google Scholar
  19. Hohlmann B (1997) Beitrag zur spätbronzezeitlichen Kupfermetallurgie in Trentino(Südalpen) im Vergleich mit anderen prähistorischen Kupferschlacken aus dem Alpenraum. Faculty of Geosciences, Ruhr-University Bochum, PhD dissertationGoogle Scholar
  20. Jiang ZL,Zhu ZH (2014-01-03) An important achievements of archaeological excavation in YuBeidi site in Dongchuan,Yunnan province. China Cultural Relics News (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  21. Jin ZY (2008) Lead isotope archaeology in China. China University of Science and Technology Press, Hefei (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  22. Joint Archaeological Team of IA, CASS (1987) A report of 1958–1961 in Yinxu site. Cultural Relics Press, Beijing (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  23. Joint Archaeological Team of IA, CASS (1999) A report of 1959–1978 excavation in Erlitou site in Yanshi. Encyclopedia of China Publishing House, Beijing (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  24. Li XC (2000) Chinese lead isotope archeology. Yunnan Science Press, Kunming (in chinese)Google Scholar
  25. Li YX (2007) A preliminary study on Erlitou Bronze foundry site. Archaeology of science and technology. Technology & Technical Publisher, Beijing (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  26. Li XR 2016–6-31. The achievements of archaeological excavation in Guangfentou site ,Jiangchuan,Yunnan province. Chinese Cultural Relics News(in Chinese)Google Scholar
  27. Li XC, Han RB (2011) The ancient Dian kingdom metal technology research. Science Press, Beijing (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  28. Li YX, Hong YR (1988) Slagery of copper smelting in antiquity. Sci Conserv Archaeol 1:28–34 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  29. Li YX, Hong YR (1995) Slagery of copper smelting in antiquity. Sci Conserv Archaeol 1:28–34 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  30. Li XR, Liu X (2016) An analysis on the carbonized seeds and fruits from Guangfentou site in Jiangchuan, Yunnan. Agricul Archaeol 3:20–27 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  31. Li XC, et al. (2008) Scientific analysis of metal artefacts unearthed in the Lijiashan ancient tomb , Jiangchuan, Yunnan Province. Archaeol.8:76–90(in Chinese)Google Scholar
  32. Liu S, Thilo R, Pernicka E, Arnulf Hausleiterka E (2015) Copper processing in the oases of northwest Arabia: technology, alloys and provenance. J Archaeol Sci 53:492–503CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Luoyang Cultural Relics Task Force (1983) Excavation of casting ruins in Western Zhou Dynasty in Beiyao. Luoyang Archaeol 08:430–441 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  34. Min RWJ (2009) The excavation briefing in Yinsuo Island, Haidong, Yunnan province. Archaeol 08:23–41 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  35. Müller R, Rehren T, Rovira S (2004) Almizaraque and the early copper metallurgy of southeast Spain: new data. Madr Mittl 45:33–56Google Scholar
  36. Murillo-Barroso M, Pryce M, Bellina TO, Martinón-Torres M (2010) Khao Sam Kaeo—an archaeometallurgical crossroads for trans-asiatic technological traditions. J Archaeol Sci 37:1761–1772CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pigott VC, Rogers HC, Nash SK (2003) Archaeometallurgical investigations at Malyan: the evidence for tin-bronze in the Kaftari Phase. In: Miller NF, Abdi K (eds) Yeki Bud, Yeki Nabud: Essays on the archaeology of Iran in honor of William M. Sumner. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA, Los Angeles, pp 161–176Google Scholar
  38. Pollard AM, Heron C (2008) Archaeological chemistry. Royal Society of Chemistry, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  39. Qi LL (2014) Study of the remains of smelting site in Shijiazhai in Jinping of Yunnan. University of Science and Technology Beijing, Beijing (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  40. Qiu RR 2015-10-14. Excavation of Bronze Age remains of Dian in Xingyi Site, Yunnan Province. Yunnan Daily(in Chinese)Google Scholar
  41. Rademakers FW, Rehren T, Pusch E (2013) Bronze production in Pi-Ramesse: alloying technology and material use. In: Ben-Yosef E, Goren Y (eds) Mining for copper: essays in honor of Professor Beno Rothenberg. Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv (in press)Google Scholar
  42. Radivojevic M, Rehren T, Pernicka E, Sljivar D, Brauns M, Boric D (2010) On the origins of extractive metallurgy: new evidence from Europe. J Archaeol Sci 37:2775–2787CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Rehren T, Boscher L, Pernicka E (2012) Large scale smelting of speiss and arsenical copper at Early Bronze Age Arisman, North-West Iran. J Archaeol Sci 39:1717CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Renzi M, Hauptmann A, Rovira S, (2007) Phoenician metallurgical production at S-E Spain. Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference “Archaeometallurgy in Europe 2007”, Grado-Aquileia [CD-ROM]Google Scholar
  45. Rovira S (2004) Tecnología metalúrgica y cambio cultural en la Prehistoria de la Península Ibérica. Norba Revista de Historia 17:9–40Google Scholar
  46. Rovira S (2007) La producción de bronces en la prehistoria. In: Molera J, Farjas J, Roura P, Pradell T (eds) Avances En Arqueometría, Actas Del VI Congreso Ibérico De Arqueometría, vol 2005. Universidad de Girona, Girona, pp 21–35Google Scholar
  47. Rovira S, Montero-Ruiz I, Renzi M (2009) Experimental co-smelting to copper-tin alloys. In: Kienlin TL, Roberts BW (eds) Metals and societies. Studies in Honour of Barbara S. Ottaway.Universitatsforschungen zur prahistorischen Archaologie. R.Habelt, Bonn, pp 407–414Google Scholar
  48. Ryndina N, Indenbaum G, Kolosova V (1999) Copper production from polymetallic sulphide ores in the Northeastern Balkan Eneolithic culture. J Archaeol Sci 26:1059–1068CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Shanxi Provincial Institute Of Archaeology (1993) The Houma bronze foundry site. Cultural Relics Press, Beijing (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  50. The Xinzheng workstation of Henan Provincial Museum (1980) Drilling and excavation of Zhenghan Old City in Xinzheng, Henan province. Cultural Relics Press, Beijing (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  51. Tylecote RF (1980) Copper ingots and marine copper. Int J Naut Archaeol 9(1):67–68Google Scholar
  52. Tylecote RF (1982) Early metallurgy in Cyprus. In: Muhly JD, Maddin R, Karageorghis V (eds) The Late Bronze Age: copper and bronze metallurgy at Enkomi and Kition. 4000–500 B.C.Pierides Foundation, Nicosia, pp 81–103Google Scholar
  53. Tylecote RF and Boydell PF (1978) Experiments on copper smelting in chalcolithic copper smelting. Institute for Archaeometallurgy Studies, LondonGoogle Scholar
  54. Valério P, Monge Soares AM, Silva RJC, Araújo MF, Rebelo P, Neto N, Santos R, Fontes T (2013a) Bronze production in southwestern Iberian Peninsula: the Late Bronze Age metallurgical workshop from Entre Águas 5 (Portugal). J Archaeol Sci 40:439–451CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Valério, P., Monge Soares, A.M., Silva, R.J.C., Araújo, M.F., Rebelo, P., Neto, N., Santos, R.,Fontes, T., 2013b. Bronze production in southwestern Iberian Peninsula: the Late Bronze Age metallurgical workshop from Entre Águas 5 (Portugal) J Archaeol Sci 40, 439–451Google Scholar
  56. Villa IM (2009) Lead isotopic measurements in archeological objects. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 1:149–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wang K (2013) Preliminary study on bronze casting ruins of Shigudun site in Tongling. Peking University, Beijing (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  58. Wang DD, Sun SY, Li Y (1997) Investigation on slag smelting sites and analysis of slag in Gejiu, Yunnan province. Cult Reli Cent China 2:104–107 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  59. Wei DP, Fang M, Wan F (2002) Abundant concentration of lead on the sample of bronze drum in Viet Nam and Survey for Lead isotopic. J Guangxi Univ Natl (Nat Sci Ed) 04:7–59 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  60. Yang F (2010) Archaeology of ancient Yunnan of 1979–2009. Yunnan People’s Publishing House, Kunming (inChinese)Google Scholar
  61. Zhang ZQ (1989) Bronze cultures in Yunnan province. Ethn Art Stud S1:59 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  62. Zhang ZZ (2000) History of metallurgy in Yunnan province. Yunnan Fine Arts Publishing House, Kunming (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  63. Zhang Z, Wang D (1975) Excavation of an ancient cemetery at Li-Chia-Shan in Chiang-Ch,uan county, Yunnan Province. Acta Archaeol Sinica 2:97–156 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  64. Zhouyuan archaeological team (2004) The discovery of Western Zhou Dynasty tombs and bronze ruins at Zhouyuan site. Archaeol. 01, 3–6(in Chinese)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Guisen Zou
    • 1
  • Jianfeng Cui
    • 2
  • Xu Liu
    • 3
  • Xiaorui Li
    • 3
  • Rui Min
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute for Cultural Heritage and History of Science and TechnologyUniversity of Science and Technology BeijingBeijingChina
  2. 2.School of Archaeology and MuseologyPeking UniversityBeijingChina
  3. 3.Yunnan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and ArchaeologyKunmingChina

Personalised recommendations