Megalithic and Continuing Peninsular High-Tin Binary Bronzes: Possible Roots in Harappan Binary Bronze Usage?

  • Sharada SrinivasanEmail author
Technical Paper


This paper attempts to trace the development of an unusual and skilled class of alloys, of binary high-tin bronze (i.e. alloys of only copper with a higher percentage of tin), which are found from surprisingly early contexts from Indian antiquity. In particular, the deliberate use was made of binary beta bronze with around 22–24 % tin, specifically exploiting the properties of higher hot-forgability of bronze of this composition due to the formation of the high temperature beta intermetallic compound phase of 22.9 % tin. Quenching resulted in the retention of the beta phase, yielding a musical alloy with golden lustre and improved tensile strength as compared to the as-cast state. Examples of hot forged and quenched high-tin beta bronzes studied by the author from the South Indian Iron Age and megalithic cultures from Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra and Gandharan Grave Culture of Taxila are summarised here ranking amongst the earliest and most finely wrought such finds. There are technological and morphological similarities to surviving high-tin bronze crafts practices documented by the author in Kerala since 1990. Since the 1990’s she has also documented the making of high-tin delta bronze mirrors at Aranmula with a composition closer to the pure delta phase of 32.6 % tin, which instead exploited the specular properties this alloy while managing its brittleness. Although it is difficult to speculate about origins, a long standing practice of using binary tin–bronzes (i.e. only copper–tin alloys) can be detected going back to Harappan bronzes which also seem to be predominantly binary bronzes with not much lead added to them. Though most of these seem to be low-tin bronze, the presence of a couple with higher tin of about 20 % is also notable in terms of the above discussion.


Megalithic Binary high-tin beta bronze Vessels Peninsular Harappan Mirrors High-tin delta bronze Tin sources Archaeometallurgy 



The past support in the analyses of Institute of Archaeology, University College London the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington is acknowledged and currently of National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore and Indian Institute of Science, Department of Metallurgy. The author is grateful to her husband Digvijay Mallah for the assistance in the fieldwork in Kerala to the artisan workshops in the early 1990’s which rank amongst the earliest identifications made of these crafts as binary high-tin bronze crafts. The support of late N. Seeley, I. Glover, A. Bennet, J. A. Charles, N. Meeks, London, T. Chase, P. Jett, Smithsonian, S. Ranganathan, NIAS & IISc, Bangalore, V.N. Misra, Deccan College, M. Kenoyer, R. Allchin, R. Krishnamurthy, Dinamalar and K. Rajan, Tamil University, Tanjavur and Kalyadi Copper Unit of Hutti Gold Mines, are acknowledged as well as the past support to the research of Railway Mine and Plantation Equipment, London, British Council, New Delhi, Ancient India and Iran Trust, UK and DST. Some of the preliminary ideas in this paper had been put forth at a conference on ‘Indus Archaeology’ held at University of Wisconsin Madison in 1998 organised by Mark Kenoyer and the author is grateful for the earlier support of the Homi Bhabha Research Council, Mumbai, and S. M. Chitre and H. D. Pajnigar in this.


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Copyright information

© Indian Institute of Metals 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.NIASBangaloreIndia

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