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Journal of

Journal of Mining and Metallurgy 45 (2) B (2009) 143 - 148 Mining and
Metallurgy

BEGINNING OF THE METAL AGE IN THE CENTRAL BALKANS


ACCORDING TO THE RESULTS OF THE ARCHEOMETALLURGY

#
B. Jovanović

Corresponding Member of Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts,


Belgrade, Serbia
(Received 02 December 2008; accepted 29 January 2009)

Abstract

The gradual development of the primary copper metallurgy in Balkans starts with production of small
jewelry pieces and ends with the serial production of massive tools and weapons. It is confirmed that this
metallurgy depended on the contemporary mining, i.e. the available sources of the raw materials. It is also
corroborated by the discovery of two Early Eneolithic copper mines: Rudna Glava in Eastern Serbia and Ai-
Bunar in Bulgaria /first half and the middle of the 5th millennium BC/. These mines are also the evidence for
the local exploitation of the carbonate copper minerals – malachite and azurite. The technology employed is
close to the former flint mining in the Late Neolithic; massive pebbles obtained from the neighboring alluvial
deposits were used as mining hammers. Identical technology was employed in the mines dating from the later
periods /Rudnik, Central Serbia, Jarmovac, Priboj na Limu/. The Vinča culture of the central Balkan followed
all metallurgical phases of introduction of metal and use of the carbonate ores /Gradac I – III phase/. This long
process of including the metal in wider use lasted generally from the middle of the 5th millennium BC to the
end of the 4th millennium BC, i.e. to the appearance of the Bronze Age.

Keywords: Eneolithic; Primary mining; Archaeometallurgy; Malachite; Rudna Glava; Mali Šturac,
Jarmovac

1. Introduction engaged in speculations in solving certain


complex events important for appearance /or
The archaeology was based on collecting disappearance/ of ancient cultures and their
material remains of the former /ancient/ fundamental achievements.
civilizations but did not always stick to this The emergence of the first use of metal in
basic prerequisite of its relatively late the Eneolithic/Copper Age/ of the Balkans
appearance among the historical sciences. It was explained, on the base of the low
has been dealing with hypotheses and was absolute chronology, as a consequence of the
#Corresponding author: bjovanovic@YUBC.net

DOI:10.2298/JMMB0902143J
14 4 B. Jovanović / JMM 45 (2) B (2009) 135 - 140

visits of the ‘protectors’ of the Aegean and hammer-axes has been recognized rather
Bronze Age. They were the imagined early on the basis of the archaeological finds.
professional metallurgists sent in these areas Thus has indirectly been confirmed the
to look for the new sources of the raw independence of the primary copper
materials for the advanced civilizations of metallurgy, which could be followed from
the East Mediterranean or even the Near East the simplest forms of the objects for
[1]. However, the real evidence for such everyday use to the implements of
assumed expeditions, which brought to the substantial weight cast in the one-piece
Balkans the first knowledge about copper moulds.
mining and processing of this earliest As a result we came to conclusion that the
prehistoric metal, has never been provided. initial phase of the Early Eneolithic
In its way was also standing the fact that metallurgy could be better explained only on
‘protectors’ of the Mediterranean Bronze the basis of evidence concerning
Age could not have transferred the contemporary mining. The interdependence
knowledge concerning first metallurgical of the metallurgical tradition and available
experience because it would have been very sources of raw material is in that way
distant past for them and thus unknown /as permanently present in production of the
primeval/ as for the autochthonous cultures metal artifacts in prehistory. The knowledge
in the Balkans that had not experienced that of technology employed in the earliest
past. It turned out, however, that remains of copper mines in the Balkans as well as the
the earliest mining in the Balkans are very discovery of the Early Eneolithic cultures as
sporadic and as a rule destroyed by later bearers of the mining activities are necessary
exploitation from the prehistoric to the for the understanding of the origin of the
modern times. primary copper use. By the discovery of two
Therefore, the first archeometallurgical more mines in the Central Balkans /Rudna
analyses relied directly on the existing Glava/ and in the Eastern Balkans /Ai-Bunar/
museum collections of copper artifacts [2] in the 1960s, these two basic elements of
according to principle – how much metal the copper use during Early Eneolithic have
finds so much metallurgy. Their scarcity was finally been joined into unique production
hence taken as evidence that primary entity. These mines, which have been
metallurgy had no significant impact on the archaeologically investigated to a
evolution of the Early Eneolithic cultures in considerable extent, are dated in the Early
the region. It was also emphasized that there Eneolithic, i.e. the Early Copper Age: Ai-
are no information for copper ore smelting, Bunar corresponds with cultures Karanovo
so more attention was paid to collecting the VI /Karanovo V in the south Thrace dating
native copper and the contemporaneous from the first half and the middle of the 5th
technique of cold working. The gradual millennium BC [3] while Rudna Glava was
development of the copper metallurgy in the active during the Gradac phase of the Vinča
eastern and central Balkans starting with culture and its date is similar [4]. These
simple jewelry and small implements (the mines are the evidence for local exploitation
phase of cylindrical beads and wire of carbonate copper minerals – malachite
bracelets) and reaching to the massive tools and azurite. The massive pebbles of volcanic
B. Jovanović / JMM 45 (2) B (2009) 143 - 148 14 5

origin had been obtained from the obtaining of the metal in the early phases of
neighboring river deposits and used as heavy its use in the Central Balkans are
mining hammers. The technology employed insufficiently documented from the
at Rudna Glava is very similar to the former technological aspect. Thus an often asked
mining of flint in the Early Neolithic or in question where had been the smelteries or at
even earlier phases of this period throughout least the individual smelting or casting
the continent. furnaces remains generally unanswered.
Similar technology but this time of higher An attempt to explain the first mines as
level, judging by the various types of sources of materials used for pigments:
pebbles-hammers, was used in the copper azurite for blue pigment, malachite for the
mines at Mali Šturac /Rudnik, Central green one is not based on the existing
Serbia/ and particularly in Jarmovac /Priboj evidence. Even M. M. Vasić, the first
na Limu/. The first mine had been exploited investigator of the Vinča culture came to
in the Bronze Age or the later periods while conclusion that there is no evidence for the
the other one had been exploited during the use of ‘carbonate’ pigments in the settlement
Eneolithic but its exploitation continued until Vinča-Belo Brdo despite the presence of
the modern times [5]. amorphous malachite in the later /Gradac/
By comparing the technology employed phase of the settlement.
in the earliest copper mines in Thrace and The cold working of the native copper is
Eastern Serbia as well as the similar usually not accepted as distinct
examples in other regions the striking archeometallurgical phase although it is not
similarity could be encountered. The use of clear what it could be in that case. The
pebble-hammers with transversal groove is sporadic use of malachite as decorative
identical; the veins of copper ore were mineral is not unexpected but it has no
followed to the border of the oxidation zone metallurgical significance as it was the
at the exploited deposit and generally using question of mechanical treatment. The
same technology in the quest for malachite, transition to the obtaining of copper from
azurite and native copper. The introduction malachite is illustrated by cylindrical beads
of copper, therefore, implies identical or very made of thin sheet metal and worn side by
similar exploitation of the carbonate or oxide side on the same necklace with beads of
ores regardless of the geographic location malachite (mineral). The bracelet made of
but there is a considerable difference in the copper of high purity comes from the Vinča
absolute chronology [6]. culture (Gradac II phase) settlement Divostin
Similar evidence suggests that use of the near Kragujevac where the amorphous
metal in the Eneolithic metallurgy depends malachite was also found in a considerable
directly on the sources of raw materials quantity. This bracelet belongs to the well-
within given territory. Thus very early use of known ‘Pločnik’ type represented by one
silver prevails in the Aegean, particularly in specimen in hoard 3 from the eponymous
the Cyclades [7] while the copper metallurgy site / Gradac III phase /. The smelting of
of large scale along with the first bronze carbonate ores for production of jewelry and
alloys prevails besides gold, in the small tools was introduced at the Vinča
continental Balkans. The processing and culture settlement Gornja Tuzla / Gradac I-II
146 B. Jovanović / JMM 45 (2) B (2009) 143 - 148

phase/. There has also been found the speaks rather in favor of the ‘revolution of
amorphous malachite [8]. mining’ than the ‘revolution of metallurgy’,
It has been known for a long time that it is which concerns more the technology of
not simple to determine the composition of alloys and the serial production of the bronze
the metal used for the earliest massive tools artifacts.
in the Early Eneolithic – whether it is the The south region of the Vinča culture
native copper or the copper obtained by provides different archeometallurgical
smelting carbonate ore because of the evidence to a certain degree. The most
exceptional purity of metal in both instances. interesting among the larger Vinča
The finding circumstances of the earliest settlements existing along the south edge of
metal artifacts have the important role in the zone with the richest ore deposits in
drawing conclusions about the primary Eastern Serbia /Majdanpek – Rudna Glava –
metallurgy. There has also been introduced Bor/ is the settlement Belovode near
the term ‘metallurgy of necropoles’ denoting Petrovac na Mlavi. This settlement existed
the origin of the most of early copper during Gradac I – II phase; according to the
artifacts. They are the grave goods as the division of the Early Eneolithic culture into
compulsory offerings in the funerary ritual Gradac I – III phases it relates generally to its
observed in the Early Eneolithic south area and is based on the corresponding
communities in the Middle Danube basin archeometallurgical development. The most
and in the Carpathian basin. The valuable important result of such relatively
contribution to the classification and chronological division is the sharp
archeometry of the copper jewelry and tools distinction between the south and north
of the Eneolithic period are various hoards region of the Vinča culture. While the former
containing the finished copper products or enters the final stages of the Early Eneolithic
the ‘founder’s waste’ prepared for melting through the Gradac III phase, the latter is
down. The magnificent grave goods of exposed to pressure and partial destruction
copper and gold from the famous Varna by the cultures of the Pannonian Early and
necropolis radically changed the Later Eneolithic [10].
assumptions concerning the metallurgy of It turned out that processing of malachite
the Late Eneolithic in the Eastern Balkans / during Gradac I – II phase was, regardless of
Gumelniţa – Karanovo VI culture/ [9]. The the technical and production level, just the
high technological level of the Late local production. According to the existing
Eneolithic in the Balkans when massive evidence we should not expect any distinct
copper tools had been produced in series is center during the first stage of metallurgy in
evident. the Vinča culture. The situation with smiths
The Vinča culture followed all the stages and smelters gathered in small artisan
of gradual introduction of the metals in the communities is more probable for the Gradac
Central Balkans. The most acceptable is the III phase because the serial production of
conclusion that metallurgical production massive tools and weapons has only been
became possible only simultaneously with possible on the basis of the considerable
primary copper mining – mostly concerning increase of the available quantity of copper
the carbonate and oxide ores. This fact obtained from the carbonate copper
B. Jovanović / JMM 45 (2) B (2009) 143 - 148 14 7

minerals. The early production centers have well as by applying the analytic method
been confirmed so far only in the Baden insufficiently adjusted to the distinctive
culture /Eastern Slavonija/ at the site Saloš – conditions of the site situated on the strip
Donja Vrba near Slavonski Brod and this mine of the modern magnetite mine [13].
points to the Alpine zone in the northwest Therefore, the different levels of
abounding in the sulphides copper ores [11]. development of metallurgy within the
It is not difficult to imagine the countless contemporaneous cultures of the Early
ways of circulation of the first metal, from Eneolithic in this region are understandable.
the commercial exchange to plundering. Thus, the Tiszapolgar culture, which was
Therefore it is impossible to distinguish, closer to the sources of the Carpathian
using classic archaeological methods, how copper yielded considerable number of
many artifacts had been produced of the massive hammer-axes (mostly grave goods)
copper from one or many sources of the raw while geographically close Sopot culture did
materials that could also be rather distant not yield the data about its own production of
from each other. the copper artifacts.
The investigations concerning the origin The metallurgy in the Balkans repeats the
of malachite in the Vinča settlements in the primary mining technology and copper
Morava valley in relation to Rudna Glava processing independently of the
/Gradac I phase/ did not yield the expected chronological and geographical differences.
results. The analyses of the radioactive This was possible to achieve because the
isotopes of lead in some samples were initial knowledge about metals was in the
hampered by the increased radioactivity of
the copper ore from Rudna Glava [12] as

Fig. 1. Massive copper tools and weapons, Fig. 2. Massive copper tools and weapons,
Eneolithic period Eneolithic period
1. Central Balkans; 2 Western Balkans 1-2. Eastern Balkan; 3. Lower Danube basin
148 B. Jovanović / JMM 45 (2) B (2009) 143 - 148

Balkan-Aegean area rather early but the XXXVIII-XXXIX (1994-1995) 9-17.


prerequisites for its intensification were very 5. B. Jovanović, Ref. 2, p.78.
different. 6. B. Jovanović, Continuity of the prehistoric
Bearing in mind the early occurrence of mining in the Central Balkans,Ancient mining and
small number of copper objects within the metallurgy in Southeast Europe, P. Petrović, S.
Neolithic cultures in the Balkans and their Djurdjekanović, Eds., Bor - Beograd, 1995, p.29.
diverse dating as well as the absence of 7. B. Jovanović, Silver in the Early Praehistory of
reliable evidence concerning the very the Central Balkans, Silver Workshops and mints,
beginning of the metallurgical processing of I.Popović, T. Cvjetičanin, B.Borić – Brešković,
Belgrade, 1995, 31-37. (in Serbian)
malachite – there still remains, however, the
primary mining of carbonate copper 8. B. Čović, Prehistoric mining and metallurgy in
Bosnia and Herzegovina – state and investigation
minerals, determined chronologically and
problems, Annual XXII, Center for balkanological
geographically. Therefore, the Gradac I research, 20 (1984) 111-144. (in Serbian)
phase of the Vinča culture /Rudna Glava/ and
9. H. Todorova, Chronologie, horizontale
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10. B. Jovanović, Gradac Phase of the Vinča
use of gold from the river deposits was culture: Origin of a typological innovation Homage to
probably of a later date as it is suggested by Milutin Garašanin, N.Tasić, C. Grozdanov Eds.,
the necropolis in Varna /Black Sea coast/. Belgrade 2006, 221-233;
The long process of including the metal in 11. D. Šljivar, The Eariest Copper Metalurgy in the
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4th century BC. The quoted dates are also 12. J. Lozuk, A problem of the Baden group
confirmation of gradual / and independent / Metallurgy at the site of Saloš, Donja Vrba near
improvement of the metallurgical knowledge Slavonski Brod, Ancient mining and metallurgy in
Southeast Europe, P.Petrović, S. Djurdjekanović,
in the Eneolithic period of the Balkans. Eds., Bor-Beograd, 1995, p. 55-58.
13. E. Pernicka, Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age
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