The Metallurgical Cycle and Human Responses to Material Fatigue

Author(s): Joseph Lehner

Year: 2018


Innovations in metallurgy had and continue to have significant and transformative effects on society. From mineral exploration and mining to primary metal production, manufacturing, and consumption across a range of social contexts, metallurgy influenced a wide range of distinctly human conditions. However, while metals are particularly transmutable, they also rapidly corrode back into increasingly stable mineral compounds in processes that people tried to mitigate and often unsuccessfully overcame. This paper discusses how metal production and consumption leads to this poorly studied phenomenon of material fatigue, where metals embrittled, corrode and ultimately fail, giving way to potentially systematic societal and environmental upheaval with oftentimes unpredictable and disastrous effects. Using ancient and modern case studies, this paper will then examine the human response to overcome the problems of material fatigue. In particular, we examine the case of the 1200 BC Cape Gelidonya Shipwreck found off the coast of southwestern Turkey, and whose cargo of copper ingot and alloy scrap metal demonstrates how some sectors of society worked alongside consumers to recycle fatigued metal. Examination of this metallurgical cycle – from minerals to metals and back again – affords a new perspective on the role of metal technology in human societies.

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The Metallurgical Cycle and Human Responses to Material Fatigue. Joseph Lehner. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 444442)

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Abstract Id(s): 21929