Hanzhong bronzes and highly radiogenic lead in Shang period China

Publication date: January 2019

Source: Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 101

Author(s): Kunlong Chen, Jianjun Mei, Thilo Rehren, Siran Liu, Wei Yang, Marcos Martinón-Torres, Congcang Zhao, Yoshimitsu Hirao, Jianli Chen, Yu Liu


For decades, the origin of the bronzes with distinct highly radiogenic lead isotopic ratios in Shang period China has been a puzzle. This paper presents new lead isotope data for bronze objects from the Hanzhong region, one of the key regional bronze cultures during Shang period China. On the basis of a synthetical investigation of the typological, chemical and lead isotopic features of Hanzhong bronzes and their relations to other regional bronze cultures, we propose the Qinling area as a potential region of origin for the metals containing highly radiogenic lead used by several contemporaneous but culturally/politically distinct entities across a vast territory. Taking into account both archaeological and geological evidence, this working hypothesis draws attention not merely to the geological provenance of metal resources, but also to the mechanisms of metal production and circulation as well as broader social-economic dynamics.