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The Archaeometallurgical Implications of New Findings of Traditional Crafts of Making High Tin ‘Delta’ Bronze Mirrors and ‘Beta’ Bronze Vessels in Kerala State of South India

  • Sharada Srinivasan (a1)

New metallurgical and ethnographic observations of the traditional manufacture of specular high-tin bronze mirrors in Kerala state of southern India are discussed, which is an exceptional example of a surviving craft practice of metal mirror-making in the world. The manufacturing process has been reconstructed from analytical investigations made by Srinivasan following a visit late in 1991 to a mirror making workshop and from her technical studies of equipment acquired by Glover in March 1992 from another group of mirror makers from Pathanamthita at an exhibition held at Crafts Museum, Delhi. Finished and unfinished mirror from two workshops were of a binary, copper-tin alloy of 33% tin which is close to the composition of pure delta phase, so that these mirrors are referred to here as ‘delta’ bronzes. For the first time, metallurgical and field observations were made by Srinivasan in 1991 of the manufacture of high-tin ‘beta’ bonze vessels from Palghat district, Kerala, i‥e of wrought and quenched 23% tin bronze. This has provided the first metallurgical record for a surviving craft of high-tin bronze bowl making which can be directly related to archaeological finds of high-tin bronze vessels from the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. New analytical investigations are presented of high-tin beta bronzes from the Indian subcontinent which are some of the earliest reported worldwide. These coupled with the archaeometallurgical evidence suggests that these high-tin bronze techniques are part of a long, continuing, and probably indigenous tradition of the use of high-tin bronzes in the Indian subcontinent with finds reported even from Indus Valley sites. While the source of tin has been problematic, new evidence on bronze smelting slags and literary evidence suggests there may have been some sources of tin in South India.

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