James D. Muhly: Sources of Tin and the Beginnings of Bronze Metallurgy https://ancient-world-project.nes.lsa.umich.edu/tltc/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/METAL_METALLURGY_Muhly-1985-AJA_Sources-of-Tin-and-the-Beginning-of-the-Bronze-Age.pdf: "The tin resources of the Mediterranean world... whether or not they were of any importance in antiquity.... In the mid-fifth century B.C. Herodotus...

...Of the extreme tracts of Europe towards the west, I cannot speak with any certainty; for I do not allow that there is any river to which the barbarians give the name of Eridanus, emptying itself into the northern sea, whence (as the tale goes) amber is procured; nor do I know of any islands called the Tin Islands, whence the tin comes which we use.

For in the first place the name Eridanus is manifestly not a barbarian word at all, but a Greek name, invented by some poet or other; and secondly, though I have taken great pains, I have never been able to get an eye-witness that there is any sea on the further side of Europe. Nevertheless, tin and amber do certainly come to us from the ends of the earth...

This passage... shows that Herodotus, who seems to have devoted some effort... was unable to learn anything regarding the sources of tin being consumed in Periclean Athens. The best he could come up with were vague stories regarding the mysterious Tin Islands (Kassiterides), about whose very existence Herodotus obviously had his doubts. The only certainty in the matter was the relationship between tin and amber, both said to come from the "ends of the earth"....

We are dealing here with a period of history-the fifth century B.C.-about which we know a great deal, far more than ever will be known about the Bronze Age world. Periclean Athens was importing large amounts of tin. The inscriptions relating to the casting of the Athena Promachos list single purchases of tin as large as 150 talents or almost 4,000 kg. We also learn from these texts that a talent of tin sold for 233 drachmas while the price of copper was just over 35 drachmas per talent....

We have, then, considerable evidence regarding trade in, price and use of tin in Classical Athens, but little evidence regarding the actual source of that tin. If Herodotus failed to get beyond the tall stories told by sailors, stories told perhaps more to confuse and to obfuscate than to instruct, we have little chance of doing better for the Bronze Age world...


#noted #2019-10-06

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