Meeting in the East - The Seventh International Conference on the Beginnings of the Use of Metals and Alloys
The Seventh International Conference on the Beginnings of the Use of Metals and Alloys (BUMA) was held at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in India from September 13 to September 17, 2009.
The BUMA International Conference was founded in the early 1980s by Professor Ko Tsun (Ke Jun) of the University of Science and Technology, Beijing, and Professor Robert Maddin from Harvard University. The first conference was held in Beijing in 1981, while the second and third conferences were held in Zhengzhou and Sanmenxia, Henan Province, in 1986 and 1994 respectively. The next two conferences were held in Japan in 1998 and in South Korea in 2002. The Sixth BUMA International Conference was held at the University of Science and Technology, Beijing in 2006, which coincided with the 90th birthday of Professor Ko Tsun. The tireless efforts of the conference's organisers and the huge support from scholars involved has helped make the BUMA conference one of the foremost and influential events for scholars involved in the study of ancient metallurgy. Almost 80 scholars from China, India, the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Norway, Mauritius, Israel, Turkey, Portugal, Iran and Australia participated in this year's conference. The 19-person delegation of Chinese academics and officials is the largest beside the delegation of India. A new 15-person committee was selected during the conference. Professor Thilo Rehren (University College London) and Professor Mei Jianjun (University of Science and Technology, Beijing) were elected as Chairpersons of the new committee, while Professors Ko Tsun and Robert Maddin were made honorary Chairpersons.
The theme of this year's conference was "Materials and Civilization". Eight key topics were covered during the course of the conference, including the smelting of copper, iron, tin, zinc and other metals in ancient times, and the manufacture, use and spread of metal artifacts. There were a total of 13 sessions, 60 lectures, 12 posters and 72 abstracts, which were primarily focussed on research conducted on ancient bronze and iron. Of the 72 abstracts, 20 of the papers were on the subject of ancient iron and steel technologies. There were over 20 papers on the subject of ancient bronze, 8 of which focussed on casting techniques used in the casting of ancient bronze artifacts and 8 were surveys of ancient foundry sites and traditional casting methods. The remaining papers dealt with various issues related to ancient smelting techniques and metallurgy, including 3 papers on the alloy composition and manufacture of ancient coins. Around 80% of all the papers presented at this year's conference dealt with ancient metallurgy in Asia, with a particular focus on Mesopotamia and on regions east of the Ural mountains. Of the remaining papers, 7 dealt with the Near East, 5 dealt with Europe and 3 dealt with ancient metallurgy in Africa.
Ancient metallurgical processes and the exchange of metal artifacts in the ancient world were popular topics of research at this year's conference. Katheryn M. Linduff, an archaeologist and professor from the University of Pittsburgh, gave a lecture entitled "What’s Mine is Yours: The Transmission of Metallurgical Technology in Eastern Eurasia and East Asia". Professor Linduff drew heavily on the concept of "shared social fields" in her investigation of metallurgy in northern and western China over a 2,000-year period starting from the mid-second millennium BC. Ian Glover, an archaeologist from University College London, shared his research on Southeast Asia's transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. Huang Wei, a doctoral student at the School of Archaeology and Museology at Peking University, presented his analysis of metal artifacts unearthed at the Majiayuan site in Gansu Province. His findings indicate that the high level of tin on the surfaces of the metal artifacts points to the use of tin gilt, a technique he believes may have spread across the Eurasian continent from the northern Mediterranean and reached northwest China before 221 BC.
The research conducted on the study of ironware was focussed on the smelting techniques used and on the impact that iron smelting technologies had on ancient societies. During the conference, scholars discussed ancient ironware techniques from India, Thailand, Israel, China and Iran. Professor S. Mohammadamin Emami, an Iranian scholar at the Isfahan University of Art, used quantitative XRD methods and atomic force microscopy to analyse slag which had been excavated at a site in central Iran which dates back to the first century BC. Professor Thilo Rehren (University College London) and Harald Alexander Veldhuijzen presented their collaborative research on the technical ceramic analyses conducted on the remains of an iron-smelting furnace discovered at the Tell Hammeh site in Jordan, which dates back to around 930 BC and is believed to be the earliest known centre of iron production in the world. Huang Quansheng (Guangxi University for Nationalities) gave a presentation on the research he conducted on a Song Dynasty iron-smelting site which was recently discovered in Guangxi's Xingye County. His research confirmed that this was the first time that manganese was used as a flux agent in cast-iron smelting in ancient China. Han Rubin, a professor at the University of Science and Technology, Beijing, presented his examination and analysis of 28 metallic artifacts excavated from two sarcophagus tombs in Beipiao, Liaoning Province, while Professor Qian Wei, also from the University of Science and Technology, Beijing, relied on documentary evidence in his research on the origins and evolution of the term "bin-tie" (a type of refined iron) and to help determine what type of metal it may have been.
One of the other key topics discussed at this year's conference was the manufacture, use and exchange of bronzeware. Donna Strahan, a conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, presented her research on the methods used in the casting of early Chinese Buddha sculptures and on the shift from piece-mould casting methods to the lost-wax method. Professor Shrada Srinivasan, a professor at India's National Institute of Advanced Studies and one of the academics responsible for organizing this year's conference, gave a lecture on the traditional casting methods used in the manufacture of copper alloys in southern India. Liu Yu, a scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Archaeology, recreated the elaborate technical processes involved in the casting of Late Shang bronzeware to show that the process involved two different technical systems and was essentially a combination of clay mould production and the smelting and casting of metal alloys. Chen Kunlong, a doctoral student at the University of Science and Technology, Beijing, presented a detailed analysis on the materials and techniques which were used in the manufacture of Shang era bronzeware found in the Hanzhong Basin in Shaanxi Province.
The conference featured a significant amount of research on bronze and other alloys and on ancient smelting techniques used for smelting bronze, tin, gold and zinc. This included research from Professor Mei Jianjun (University of Science and Technology, Beijing) on early bronze metallurgy in Xinjiang's Yili region, Dr. Yuan Yali's (University of Science and Technology, Beijing) analysis of the metal artifacts unearthed at the Bronze Age site at Hejiashan in western Yunnan, and Liang Honggang's (Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage) research on bronzeware from the Erlitou site in Yanshi, Hunan Province. Prabhakar Upadhyay from Banaras Hindu University, India, discussed the procurement and use of tin in ancient India, while Italian scholar Dr. Alessandra Giumlia-Mair presented her analysis of the composition and manufacture of 120 Hunnic gold objects excavated in Csongrád, Hungary.
With regards to research methods, the research methods used by the scholars who attended the conference can be divided into two main categories. The first category relied on physical and chemical analysis of metal remains, slag, metal ores, pottery moulds and furnace walls as a means of researching ancient smelting techniques and the manufacture, use and spread of metal artifacts across the ancient world. The second category relied on archaeological research, surveys of traditional handicrafts and statistical analyses as a means of studying archaeological remains, records of technological processes and the organization and management of workshops so as to draw up connections between metallurgy and those peoples' societies, economies and cultures.
As the conference drew to a close, the renowned Japanese scholar Professor Kazuhiro Nagata announced that the Eighth BUMA International Conference will be held in Japan in 2013. (Translated by Kelly McGuire)