Skip to main content
Ref ID: 36523
Ref Type: Thesis-PhD
Authors: Murowchick, Robert Edwin
Title: The ancient bronze metallurgy of Yunnan and its environs: development and implications
Date: 1989
Place of Publication: Cambridge
Publisher: Harvard University
Type: Ph.D.
Abstract: The ancient bronze metallurgy of Yunnan is renowned both for its high artistic achievement as well as for its technical perfection. With increasing scholarly interest in the development of bronze metallurgy among the various regions of south China and Southeast Asia, the Yunnan material has become increasingly important as a source of comparative data. The present study of bronze metallurgy in Yunnan and Southeast Asia is composed of four main components. First, the distribution of ores in this area is outlined, and archaeological and ethnographic details of mining and smelting technology are presented. The major archaeological manifestations of bronze metallurgy in Yunnan and Southeast Asia are surveyed, based primarily on Chinese and Vietnamese reports. Evidence of cultural interaction between Yunnan and its neighbors is also presented, with the present data indicating that northwest Yunnan was closely linked to cultural developments in western Sichuan and ultimately to northwest China, a possible source for the introduction of metallurgy into southwest China. Central Yunnan, and particularly the Dian culture, was linked with the Bac Bo region of Vietnam. Southern Vietnam and the rest of the Mekong Valley was involved in a separate interaction sphere, most likely involving a trade in metals to supply resource-poor areas. Technical studies are presented to illustrate various aspects of bronze technology. Included are the results of elemental analyses of the large collection of Yunnan bronzes now in the British Museum, as well as specimens from Cambodia and Vietnam now in Harvard's Peabody Museum. The sophisticated and prodigious production and use of bronze by the Dian culture stands in contrast to developments elsewhere in Yunnan and in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Some of the underlying social reasons for this dichotomy are explored, including the intimate relationship between bronze metallurgy and the control of political and religious power among the Dian. To an extent unequaled elsewhere in Southeast Asia, bronzes played a crucial role in the access to Dian political and ritual authority. This self-feeding cycle of production and consumption served to raise Dian metallurgy to unparalleled levels, fostering both artistic and technical innovations.
Date Created: 1/4/2007
Department: Department of Anthropology