New evidence solidifies Oman’s role as major copper provider during Bronze Age

Remains of three copper ingots found during the excavation in Oman. (Image by Jonas Kluge, courtesy of Goethe University Frankfurt am Main).

A tip from locals in Ibra, Oman, led German archaeologists to discover a rare lump of copper dating from the Early Bronze Age (about 2600-2000 BC).

The lump, weighing 1.7 kilograms, was corroded on the outside and consisted of three individual ingots in the shape of a round cone.

According to the researchers, during that period, the territory of present-day Oman was one of the most important producers of copper for ancient Mesopotamia – in modern-day Iraq -, as well as for the Indus culture in what is now Pakistan and India. It was only there that copper ore occurred on a larger scale.

Casted into ingots, the red metal was a coveted commodity, as documented by cuneiform texts from Mesopotamia.

Since copper ingots were usually further processed to make tools and other objects, they are only rarely unearthed in archaeological excavations. All the more surprising was the discovery of several such ingots in Ibra’s Early Bronze Age settlement.

The copper ingots have a plano-convex shape typical for the period, which was formed by pouring the molten metal into small clay crucibles. Through the discovery of the copper ingots, it is possible to learn more about the role of Oman in interregional trade relations during the Early Bronze Age, as well as about the metal processing technologies already known at that time.

Smelting copper requires a lot of combustible material, which was likely to have been a major challenge in a region as arid and low in vegetation as Oman. How people in the Early Bronze Age handled their limited resources and whether it was possible for them to use these sustainably are questions to be answered in the further course of the project.

Several pottery sherds of ‘black-slipped jars’, large storage vessels of the Indus culture that were also dug up there, also corroborate that the newly discovered village was in close exchange and contact with the Indian subcontinent.

All combined, the discoveries seem to signal that even a small, rather rural settlement in Central Oman was part of a system of interregional trade and exchange of goods.

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