Early Places With Metals:


Yumuktepe is a tell or ruin mound right in the thriving city of Mersin in Southern Turkey. It raised itself by continued settlements since 7000 BC until the Middle Ages. Yumuktepe was close to the coast when the first people settled there. Now it is about a mile inland.
Yumuktepe thus is far younger than the other old settlements covered in this module (look a the time line to get an idea). Its present claim to fame is that so far it yielded the oldest smelted copper known to archeometallurgists.
I visited Yumuktepe in Sept. 2013. While I can't give you a picture of the "oldest smelted copper", I can give you a vague idea of what "finding" up to 9000 year old things actually entails: long and hard physical work after a long and dedicated study of the scientific background.
Yumuktepe from above
Looking down from the hill top we see the remains of trench dug by the British archaeologist John Garstang in 1937 - 40 and 1947 - 48. John distinguished 33 different cultural levels. While his "stratigraphy" has been augmented and differentiated in more recent times, it is generally correct and still used. The lowest and thus oldest level (No. I) has meanwhile been carbon dated to about 7000 BC, the No. XXXIII top level is from the Middle Ages. Archeologists give numbers in Roman numerals, of course!
What some of these levels look like can be seen here:
Yumuktepe stratigraphy
The "layers" of Yumuktepe
Large size picture
It is not all that easy to make sense of what you see in such a vertical cut. Personally, I have no idea of what one can see in those pictures, except that the weighted-down plastic coverlet in the left-hand picture signals that this is a "live" excavation and that you should not touch anything.
Indeed, since 2000 Isabella Caneva of the University of Salento / Italy resumed digging, and some of what I'm recounting here is from Isabella Caneva's article about the subject 1) and Ünsal Yalçin's article about the copper investigations.
What you might see under one of those plastic covers is something like this:
Yumuktepe; pot in_situ
A pot and some shards "in-situ".
Large size picture
What you don't see are metal artifacts. First, there are far fewer of those in the mound than pot shards, and second, you have to sift through a lot of dirt and look rather closely to find one. Small copper needles or beads don't look like much since they are heavily corroded and mud-encrusted. Not very impressive. That's probably also why old metal things are not displayed in the Mersin museum (or in most other museums I know of).
Here are objects from Yumuktepe that are displayed in the Mersin museum:
Yumuktepe; Mersin museum
About half of the Yumuktepe objects displayed in the Mersin museum
Yumuktepe "Vase"
Pottery dominates, of course. It ages well (i.e. not at all) and the experts can tell from looking at a pot(shard) from which period it is. Unfortunately, Turkish museums typically won't tell. The explanation given for the pretty object above (and for some below) is included in its entirety.
People throughout the ages could be relied upon to provide at least two things:
  1. Jewelry and other means to adorn bodies.
  2. Toys for kids.
Both items have many merits on their own but also tend to make life easier for the males of the species. They promote peace and quiet.
Yumuktepe: jewelry
Yumuktepe jewelry; compare to much older stuff
  Note that besides the ubiquitous white bone beads, "greenstone" is prominent once more.
Yumuktepe: toys
Little pots used as toys for children.
I almost forgot: you typically find stone tools in stone age settlements! Here are some not-so-perfect obsidian tools found at Yumuktepe.
Yumuktepe; obsidian tools
Tools made from imported obsidian
It is time for the climax:

Copper artifacts found in layers XVI
(around 5000 BC) were made from
smelted copper that was cast

That was proved beyond doubt by an extended metallurgical analysis performed by Ünsal Yalçin, after he was allowed to re-examine these artifacts around 2000.
Ünsal Yalçin based his analysis not only on the rules for interpreting microstructures discussed before but mainly on the prominent copper oxide precipitates found in the copper plus the trace amounts of various impurities not normally encountered in native copper. Here is an example.
Yumukepe: microstructure of copper
Microstructure showing a Cu - CuO2 eutectic
- irrefutable evidence for smelted copper!
Source; Ünsal Yalcin; with friendly permission
The dark objects are CuO2 precipitates. The grain structure indicates deformation and beginning recrystallization due to annealing.
Last, some tantalizing pictures I took. They must be from a layer younger than 5000 BC, from a time and when smelting was "routine". What I believe I saw - and this might be completely wrong, mind you! - is a "pyrotechnology" workshop with a kiln and two smelting furnaces:
Pyrotechnology workshop
All that's left of the kiln is a raised platform (possibly built on mudbricks; those were around in other parts). Then we have two small (ca. 25 cm) shallow bottom pits left over from shaft furnaces, and the flow pattern of slag "imprinted" on the floor.
Flow pattern of slag from the (marked) furnace bottom
Actually, Isabella Caneva, who I contacted later, not only granted me permission to use these pictures but affirmed my guess. What we have is actually a platform inside a Late Chalcolithic élite building of level XV, 4500 BC. Here is another picture of such a workshop that Isabella gracefully let me have:
Metall workshop from 4500 BC in Yumuktepe
Late Chalcolithic (4500 BC) metal workshop in Yumuktepe
Large size
Source: Provided by Isabella Caneva; Thanks!

1) Isabelle Caneva: "Mersin-Yumuktepe in the Seventh Millennium BC; an updated view", in: "The Neolithic in Turkey; Central Turkey", ed. Mehment Özdogan et al., Archeology and Art Publ., 2012, p. 1 - 29

With frame With frame as PDF

go to 10.1.3 Smelting, Melting, Casting and Alloying Copper - The First

go to Radiocarbon (C14) Dating

go to Early Copper Sites

go to Sword Places: Luristan

go to Copper Microstructure Tells It All

go to 11.1.1 The Early Sword

go to Large Pictures

go to Sword Places

go to Sword Places: La Tène

go to Large Pictures I

go to Large Pictures II

go to Large Pictures III

go to Early Iron Sites: Kültepe

go to Large Pictures III

go to Sword Places

© H. Föll (Iron, Steel and Swords script)