Indian High-Tin Bronzes and the Grecian and Persian World

Publication Type:

Journal Articles


Indian Journal of History of Science, Volume 51, Issue 4, p.601-612 (2016)



Adichanallur, Fluting, Hellenistic, High-tin bronze, Kerala, Megalithic, Nearchus, Nilgiris, Polishing, Quenched beta bronze, Sassanian, Surviving traditions, Taxila, vessels


This paper attempts to draw together some of the literary and archaeometallurgical evidence pointing to cross-cultural interactions and encounters in the use and occurrence of metals and alloys in the Indian subcontinent broadly in the 1st millennium BCE to the early common era, spanning the Iron Age to early historic period. As is generally known, aspects of the material culture of this period shows discernible external influences, such as from the Grecian, Hellenistic or Persian world, central Asia as seen in some examples of statuary, coinage and jewellery and so on. However, there are other examples which this paper aims to highlight of certain finds from the Indian context which seem to be more distinctive to the Indian region as also corroborated by evidence and accounts from the Hellenistic world. In particular the specialised alloy of wrought and forged high-tin beta (23%) bronze vessels provides an interesting case study, with the author’s archaeometallurgical investigations pointing to finds from the South Indian and peninsular Indian Iron Age of the early 1st millennium BCE (Adichanallur, Nilgiri, Mahurjhari, Taxila, Fig. 1), ranking amongst the earliest known such vessels, as well as continuing traditions (Srinivasan and Glover 1995, Srinivasan 2010). Some Southeast Asian examples of the latter part of the first millennium also show Indian connections in design suggesting an Indian provenance. Sassanian examples of about the 7th century are also known. This paper attempts to thus explore cross-cultural influences in the Indian examples, and the ways in which high-tin bronzes seem to have eventually become part of the wider Asian network of trade and interaction in antiquity