Sources of Western Zhou lead: a new understanding of Chinese Bronze Age supply networks

Abstract

Bronze vessels are the hallmark of the Chinese Bronze Age, and the formation of the Western Zhou’s (1046–772 BC) extensive metallurgical network has been the subject of much scholarly interest. However, what remains unclear is the dynamic circulation of metal within the Zhou realm and its connections with neighbouring regions. Here, the authors utilise published lead isotope data from artefacts and ore bodies to elucidate important spatial-temporal changes in metal supply. While the early Western Zhou demonstrate centralised control over metal resources (primarily lead) taken from its previous Shang Dynasty (1250–1046 BC) as well as from new mining regions in the Yangtze River basin, a major change occurred from the mid-Western Zhou onward, when metal sources in the Yangtze River basin were increasingly exploited, resulting in a shift in bronze-producing system to regional powers. These findings regarding metal circulation broaden our understanding of processes contributing to Zhou politics and the economy, as well as the relationships between the constituent parts of the Zhou realm in addition to neighbouring communities.

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Funding

This study was sponsored by Professor Thomas Stöllner’s project ‘Resources in Societies’, funded by Leibniz-Gemeinschaft (SAW-2017-DBM-3). We also received financial support from the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (No. 2019T120832) and Office of China Postdoc Council/Jilin University (No. 20204A1289).

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Correspondence to Haichao Li.

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Hsu, YK., O’Sullivan, R. & Li, H. Sources of Western Zhou lead: a new understanding of Chinese Bronze Age supply networks. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 13, 30 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-021-01279-3

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Keywords

  • Chinese Bronze Age
  • Western Zhou
  • Lead isotope geochemistry
  • Provenance
  • Bronze metallurgy