National Geographic : 1951 Jan
The Introduction of Copper Ushers In a NewEra T HROUGHOUT the Chalcolithic, or Stone-Copper, period the metal was used sparingly and, what is far more important, was treated in much the same way as stone. The real age of copper could not set in until the discovery of the basic principle of metallurgy: that by smelting the ore one could make the metal pliable and cast it into any desired shape. Only then could the flexibility of the material be fully utilized and a variety of shapes achieved that could never be forced out of the resistant stone. Once discovered and perfected, metallurgy became re sponsible for a revolution in the life of the ancients that remained without parallel until the advent of the Steam Age. In industry and in warfare, the users of stone could not compete with the handlers of copper. Acquisition of the new technique became literally a matter of life and death. Since the known sources of supply were limited and widely scattered, control of the supply routes gained an im portance never hitherto experienced, and peaceful commer cial intercourse became an international concern. The tempo of life had been vastly accelerated. Level VII of Tepe Gawra, which represents the last Chalcolithic occupation, and which yielded a few hammered copper objects, had the rich brown color of the earth in which these objects were embedded. But Gawra VI, the first witness of the Copper Age on the mound, only a few feet above Level VII, was literally green with the patina of copper. In the south of Mesopotamia the coming of copper was accompanied by a number of other drastic changes. Some of these suggest strongly that a new element had been added to the population. In the early historic period the resulting new features-in dress, physical type, the substitution ofthe cylinder for the stamp seal,and the like-come tobeasso ciated with a people whom weknow asthe Sumerians It is reasonable, therefore,toassume that the Sumerians arrived in the country in the latter part ofthe prehistoric period, after painted potteryhad given way toundecorated wares. If this assumption should prove right, itwould not be out of order to go a step further and identify the Sumerians with the group that introduced metallurgy into Mesopotamia. In this they might be compared tothe Biblical Philistines whose familiarity with iron was togive them amonopoly in Palestine nearly 2,000 yearslater (ISamuel 13:19-20). This composition reflectsthe view that the Sumerians brought the new technique tothe country. Agroup ofthem have arrived on boats, landing near one ofthesettlements which were to become inland towns later on. Their larger vessels are tied up alongsidethe circular local gufa. The newcomers are a squat type, compared with the slen der-waisted natives, and theywear flounced skirts which con trast with the shorter tunicsofthe local inhabitants. The copper wares the outsiders offer are spread onthe ground. The headman of the village examines an ax, while his wife divides her admiration between acosmetic set and afry ing pan. Behind them stand other villagers, including a mother with a child on hershoulders. Aboy looks wist fully at the shining objectsonthe ground, whose excellence is brought into relief by thefew stone pieces behind him. The Sumerian boy holds ancestors of our modern dice.