Did China Import Metals from Africa in the Bronze Age?

S. Liu, K. L. Chen, Th Rehren, J. J. Mei, J. L. Chen, Y. Liu, D. Killick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The origins of the copper, tin and lead for China's rich Bronze Age cultures are a major topic in archaeological research, with significant contributions being made by archaeological fieldwork, archaeometallurgical investigations and geochemical considerations. Here, we investigate a recent claim that the greater part of the Shang-period metalwork was made using metals from Africa, imported together with the necessary know-how to produce tin bronze. A brief review of the current status of lead isotopic study on Shang-period bronze artefacts is provided first, clarifying a few key issues involved in this discussion. It is then shown that there is no archaeological or isotopic basis for bulk metal transfer between Africa and China during the Shang period, and that the copper and lead in Shang bronze with a strongly radiogenic signature is not likely to be from Africa. We call for collaborative interdisciplinary research to address the vexing question of the Shang period's metal sources, focusing on smelting sites in geologically defined potential source regions and casting workshops identified at a number of Shang settlements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-117
Number of pages13
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018


  • Shang bronze
  • highly radiogenic lead
  • lead isotopes
  • provenance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Archaeology


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