Monday, November 13, 2006

Cast in Bronze Part 2

Why would Michigan copper be so valuable as to entice miners and traders from the other side of the planet? Its purity was unmatched. Much of the float copper found there in the nineteenth century was 99% pure. And that was after it had already been “picked over” for millennia.

Old World Bronze

The Collossus of Rhodes would seem to be one example of extravagant use of resources. Or was it? Actually, it showed that that City-state was rich in resources as well as culture and refinement. It showed those attributes to anyone who sailed within sight of Rhodes. History tells us that the bronze and iron that went into the Collossus was the abandoned weapons and seige engines left behind when Demetrius chose the better part of valor and abondoned nearly all his army's gear in the face a major reinforcements.

In terms of the amounts of available ore in the Old World it would have been extravagant, but by virtue of its status as a major trading port and political center, and the way in which it gained the metal, Rhodes was perfectly comfortable in devoting that much of its collective wealth to providing such a signpost for the world at large. The Colossus was indeed one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world, in part, because of how much “precious” metal went into it. I might equate it to using a Cray Supercomputer only for playing solitaire, just because you could. History also tells us the Colossus' beauty -- and its bronze-- was only skin deep (like Liberty). The amount of alloy in it had been enough to outfit a large army. Apparently, Rhodes had more of it than they truly needed. Like Bill Gates and money.

When one looks at the number and extent of the ancient mining sites so far identified in the Old World, there is the possibility that they provided just enough ore to produce the amounts of bronze sufficient to make the number of bronze artifacts that have been cataloged. So where did the ancient metal smiths get the materials for the rest of the artifacts that have NOT yet been found? And where is all the slag, the waste that always results from such smelting? Once the ore is smelted, the metal can be worked without producing slag, but smelting always produces copious amounts of the stuff; Unless, of course, only pure metal went into the process, and even then some small amount of slag occurs as a result of gasses becoming mixed in during the process and/or interactions with the smelting pot.

If millions of tons of high grade copper ore was removed from the Great Lakes region and taken to the Old World, then there should be at least hundreds of thousands of tons of slag somewhere. It’s not in Michigan. It’s never been identified in the Old World. But if only the purest of metals went into the mix, then the amount of resulting slag would be commensurately smaller, say tens of thousands of tons.

In the end, however, we are left with this: No pile of bronze artifacts weighing half a billion tons has ever turned up nor are we likely to find one, at least not on land. NASA has the capability to identify a pile that large from orbit using ground penetrating radar, even if it is submerged somewhere in an ocean, but they have to have a clue where to look.

If we ever find such a pile of bronze or an appropriately sized pile of slag, then it is likely we will answer most definitively all the questions of who, what, where, when, and how in one fell swoop.

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