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  Cypriot Copper: Mysteries of the Bronze Age

The Copper Trade: Ingots, Hoards and Ship Wrecks

In the Bronze Age, copper was usually transported in the form of oxhide ingots. These ingots would be traded and then melted down so copper smiths in foreign lands could work the copper. Complete oxhide ingots have been found as part of the cargo in two Bronze Age shipwrecks, while fragments of these ingots have been found in workshops throughout the Bronze Age world.


"Copper oxhide ingots are basically flat, oblong, ingots of copper from 4 to 6 cm thick, with lengths varying from 20cm to 45cm, and weights from about 10kg…" (Gale, N. in Gale 1991, 198).

Oxhide ingot from Croatia (AN1927.1218)The ingots are referred to as 'oxhide' because their shape resembles a dried oxhide, with peaks in the four corners. This mini Oxhide ingot from Makarsta (Croatia, (left AN1927.1218)) shows the shape of the form, which was widely used throughout the Eastern Mediterranean region.

This 15th century BC cylinder seal from Pyla (right) shows a fanciful scene which includes the depiction of a stylized oxhide ingot. Some scholars feel that this early representation of an oxhide ingot is evidence that that oxhide ingots were known to Cypriotes as early as the 15th Century BC. Besides the ingot, this seal shows birds, a griffin, a dagger, an ibex being attacked by a lion and a bucranium (a sculpture representing an ox skull adorned with wreaths). It could be argued that the oxhide ingot, in association with the mythical world represented by the griffin, might have been ascribed a sort of symbolic status. There is no way to prove this, but the form of the oxhide ingot is also represented in association with a possible goddess figure.

Seal (AN1896.5)
Cylinder Seal (right) with plaster impression (left) showing depictions of an oxhide ingot, birds, a griffin and an ibex being attacked by a lion
Ingot highlighted
Ingot shape highlighted

Figurine (AN1971.888)

This bronze figurine is standing on an oxhide ingot (left, AN1971.888). It has been suggested that this female statuette may have been worshipped as a sort of fertility goddess, and linked with the oxhide ingot to ensure the continuation of a plentiful supply of copper (Catling 1969). All deities of this kind have been dated to the Late Bronze Age (Dalley 1987).

Questions about Oxhide Ingots and the Copper trade

Oxhide Ingot (AN1971.888)
Close up of base of figurine; 3 ears of the ingot are visible, the fourth has broken off.
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