Metal exchange networks in prehistoric Southeast Asia - Archive ouverte HAL Access content directly
Dictionary Entry Year : 2023

Metal exchange networks in prehistoric Southeast Asia


Southeast Asian metal consumption in the form of copper-bronze artifacts begins on the mainland in the late 2nd millennium BC and in the islands in the form of bronze, iron and steel, gold, and silver in the mid to late 1st millennium BC. Regional copper production was initiated within mere decades of the medium’s initial appearance on the mainland but is currently unknown for the islands. Likewise, mainland and island Southeast Asian iron production seems to have swiftly followed prehistoric consumption behaviors, but for silver, gold, tin, and lead, primary production (mining and smelting) remain unknown and secondary production (alloying and casting) is represented by occasional crucible and mold fragments. Metals are often assumed to have been exchanged or traded, but there is a general regional assumption, probably wrong, that gold, silver, copper, bronze, and tin travel over long distances whereas lead, and especially iron and steel, move only over short distances or are produced locally. Analytical methodologies exist for determining the provenance or at least the geochemical characterization necessary for each of the metals listed here, but the application of those methodologies is extremely uneven in terms of metal type and chronospatially. At the time of writing, scholars have no data concerning the prehistoric exchange of silver, tin (except where alloyed with copper), and lead (except where alloyed with copper-bronze). Critically, scholars have no provenance studies for early iron, the appearance of which is coincident with huge regional cultural developments, which is hard to explain when historic period research on this topic is burgeoning. The determination of the provenance of gold has been attempted regionally, and while promising in the elucidation of exchange networks connecting Bali as far as Rome, the approach has not proliferated. Indeed, the only metal to have seen any systematic research is that of copper-bronze, and that is focused heavily on mainland rather than island Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, the research accomplished thus far has revolutionized the understanding of late prehistoric Southeast Asia. Due to large and often inaccessible territories, low numbers of archaeologists with limited funding, linguistic differences, and a dearth of specialists, especially ceramicists, relatively little was known about interactions between the present-day nations that make up the region prior to the Iron Age and the applicability of the provenance of glass. Complementary to that, and applying to the Bronze Age as well, the provenance of copper and bronze has begun to expose a complex web of exchanges that link centers of production and consumption across thousands of kilometers of mountain, forest, river, and sea. Most importantly, some of those networks seem to have been active at the very outset of the Bronze Age, suggesting they may have had Neolithic or earlier precedents.
Fichier principal
Vignette du fichier
ASH-00644.pdf (446.98 Ko) Télécharger le fichier
Origin : Files produced by the author(s)

Dates and versions

hal-03918353 , version 1 (02-01-2023)


  • HAL Id : hal-03918353 , version 1


T.O. Pryce, Vincent C. Pigott. Metal exchange networks in prehistoric Southeast Asia. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History, 2023. ⟨hal-03918353⟩


2 View
5 Download


Gmail Facebook Twitter LinkedIn More