Tamil Chola Bronzes and Swamimalai Legacy: Metal Sources and Archaeotechnology

Publication Type:

Journal Article


The Journal of The Minerals, Metals and Materials Society (TMS), Volume 68, p.1-15 (2016)




<p>This review explores the great copper alloy image casting traditions of southern India from <span data-scayt_word="archaeometallurgical" data-scaytid="1">archaeometallurgical</span> and <span data-scayt_word="ethnometallurgical" data-scaytid="3">ethnometallurgical</span> perspectives. The usefulness of lead isotope ratio and compositional analysis in the finger-printing and art historical study of more than 130 early historic, <span data-scayt_word="Pallava" data-scaytid="4">Pallava</span>, <span data-scayt_word="Chola" data-scaytid="5">Chola</span>, later <span data-scayt_word="Chola" data-scaytid="6">Chola</span>, and <span data-scayt_word="Vijayanagara" data-scaytid="7">Vijayanagara</span> sculptures (fifth–eighteenth centuries) is highlighted, including <span data-scayt_word="Nataraja" data-scaytid="8">Nataraja</span>, Buddha, <span data-scayt_word="Parvati" data-scaytid="9">Parvati</span>, and Rama images made of copper, leaded bronze, brass, and gilt copper. Image casting traditions at <span data-scayt_word="Swamimalai" data-scaytid="10">Swamimalai</span> in Tamil <span data-scayt_word="Nadu" data-scaytid="11">Nadu</span> are compared with artistic treatises and with the technical examination of medieval bronzes, throwing light on continuities and changes in foundry practices. Western Indian sources could be pinpointed for a couple of medieval images from lead isotope analysis. Slag and <span data-scayt_word="archaeometallurgical" data-scaytid="2">archaeometallurgical</span> investigations suggest the exploitation of some copper and lead-silver sources in the <span data-scayt_word="Andhra" data-scaytid="14">Andhra</span> and <span data-scayt_word="Karnataka" data-scaytid="16">Karnataka</span> regions in the early historic <span data-scayt_word="Satavahana" data-scaytid="18">Satavahana</span> period and point to probable copper sources for the medieval images in <span data-scayt_word="Karnataka" data-scaytid="17">Karnataka</span>, Tamil <span data-scayt_word="Nadu" data-scaytid="12">Nadu</span>, and <span data-scayt_word="Andhra" data-scaytid="15">Andhra</span> Pradesh. The general lower iron content in southern Indian bronzes perhaps renders the proximal copper–magnetite reserves of <span data-scayt_word="Seruvila" data-scaytid="19">Seruvila</span> in Sri Lanka as a less likely source. Given the lack of lead deposits in Sri Lanka, however, the match of the lead isotope signatures of a well-known Ceylonese Buddhist Tara in British Museum with a Buddha image from <span data-scayt_word="Nagapattinam" data-scaytid="20">Nagapattinam</span> in Tamil <span data-scayt_word="Nadu" data-scaytid="13">Nadu</span> may underscore ties between the island nation and the southern Indian Tamil regions.</p>