Experimental design of the Cu-As-Sn ternary colour diagram

Publication date: Available online 22 December 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science
Author(s): M. Radivojević, J. Pendić, A. Srejić, M. Korać, C. Davey, A. Benzonelli, M. Martinón-Torres, N. Jovanović, Ž. Kamberović
The aesthetic appearance of metals has long been recognised in archaeometric studies as an important factor driving inventions and innovations in the evolution of metal production. Nevertheless, while studies of ancient gold metallurgy are well supported by modern research in colour characteristics of gold alloys, the colour properties of major prehistoric copper alloys, such as arsenical copper and tin bronzes, remain either largely understudied or not easily accessible to the western scholarship. A few published studies have already indicated that alloying and heat treatment change the colours of copper alloys, although they are mainly based on examples of prehistoric tin bronze objects and experimental casts. Here we present a procedure for building the Cu-As-Sn ternary colour diagram, starting with experimental casting of 64 binary and ternary alloys in this system. We used two types of information to produce two different ternary colour diagrams: one based on photographs of the samples, and the other based on the colorimetric measurements. Furthermore, we developed a procedure for creating a graphic representation of colours in the Cu-As-Sn ternary diagram using QGIS. As an initial case study, we plotted the composition of the world’s earliest tin bronze artefacts; the graphic representation further supports claims about the importance of a golden hue for their invention and demand, c. 6500 years ago. We argue that the presented colour diagrams will find wide use in future investigations of aesthetics of prehistoric copper alloys.