Metallurgy in Indian Archaeology

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Item Code: NAK474
Author: H.C. Bhardwaj
Publisher: Tara Printing Works, Varanasi
Language: English
Edition: 2000
Pages: 231 (Throughts B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 480 gm
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Book Description
About The Book

Metallurgy in Indian Archaeology is the first dependable work on the subject. It is mainly based on laboratory studies of metallurgical remains from archaeological excavations. It reconstructs the ancient Indian metallurgy of all the metals and alloys of antiquity viz. copper, bronze, gold, silver, lead, zinc, brass, iron and steel and covers a period right from pre-Harappan (c. 3000 BC) to Gupta period (AD 600). One full chapter each has been devoted to the ‘Metallurgy of the Indian Coinage’ and ‘Socio-economic Aspect of the Metallurgy’.

The study reveals Indian ingenuity in mining metalliferous ores and their benefication, metal smelting, forging, alloying and casting teachniques. Dancing firl from Harappan period, Daimabad bronzes, ‘Copper hoard’ weapons and tools, heralding of coinage by 600 BC., in different metals. Indian innovation of crucible steel, discovery of zinc by distillation, forging of massive and rustless iron pillar of Delhi and colossal copper image of Sultanganj Buddha bear testimony to the rich heritage of Indian metallurgy.


About The Author

Dr. H.C. Bhardwaj, formerly Professor of History of Science and Technology, at ‘Banaras Hindu University’, Varanasi, is a distinguished scientist known for having pioneered scientific and technological studies of archaeological materials. He worked at the ‘Science Branch’ of the Archaeological Survey of India (1954-64) and was deputed by Govt. of India, under UNESCO programme for advanced training is ‘Scientific Archaeology’ at the premier institutes of U.K., Germany, Italy, Frence, Belgium and Holland. He is the Indian representative of the ‘Archaeometry committee’ of the International Commision on glass and was nominated by Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi as Indian Science Academy, New Delhi as Indian Member of International Union of History and Philosophy of Science.

He is author of ‘Aspects of Ancient Indian Technology and Technology, Tools and Appliances’. He contributed to History of Technology in India (1997), published by INSA and Dictionary of Indian Archaeology, New Delhi.

He was fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, where he completed this monograph. He lives at Varanasi.



There has been tremendous spurt in archaeological excavations in India, which has revealed rich heritage of Indian metallurgy. This has created global interest in ancient Indian metallurgy. In recent years, the author and a few more scientists have made laboratory studies of the diverse metal artefacts and metallurgical materials from archaeological excavations. The results of which are scattered in research journals. There has been great need to assemble the scattered information and reconstruct the metallurgy as might have been prevalent in Indian antiquity.

Considering the growing importance of the subject, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, provided 'Fellowishp' to the author to complete this monograph.

The present monograph is the product of gathering together the research work done by the author, the other scientists and the scattered material from diverse sources. Such studies have been made by a number of scientists devoted to archaeological research in various institutions. Mention may be made of M. Sanaullah, M. Hamid and B.B. Lal of the 'Science Branch' of Archaeological Survey of India, Satya Prakash and co-workers of the Chemistry Department of the University of Allahabad, D.P. Agrawal of Physical Research Laboratory, Ahemdabad, O.P. Agrawal and co-workers of National Research Laboratory for the Conservation of Cultural Property, Lucknow, K.T.M. Hegde of the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Baroda and V.D. Gote of Deccan College, Pune. I have drawn from the contributions of the above scholars and many others referred in the body of the monograph.

Since the period to be covered was large, i.e. from the earliest times to Gupta period and all the metals of antiquity were to be dealt with, it must be admitted that only more important aspects could be taken into account.

The present monograph is probably the first attempt to cover all the metals of antiquity. The author is conscious of his limitations and the short-coming of the monograph. However it is hoped that this work will further the interest in 'Ancient Indian Metallurgy' and that it will be found useful and handy both by the Archaeologist and Historians of Metallurgy.

Although the author takes full responsibility for the form, content and views expressed in the monograph, it is with a sense of gratitude that I acknowledge the friendly help of Prof. D.P. Agrawal for sparing time for discussion on the format of the work and also for sending to me his research publications.

The present monograph has been completed by the grant of the fellowship by the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Rashtrapati Nivas, Shimla. It has been also approved for publication by the Institute, but to avoid further delay it is being published independently. However, the author is thankful to the Institute for the facilities extended to complete the work.



The development of metallurgy has played a key role in the cultural history of mankind. Metals greatly influenced the efficiency of man in his daily life, specially in agriculture and industry. It provided man with the weapons of defence and offence. Metals brought about revolution in national and international trade and commerce through the introduction of coinage.

India made rich contributions in the field of metallurgy but global accounts of history of metallurgy treat Indian innovations summarily and Indian contributions pass unnoticed. Disproportional credit is given to the West Asiatic, Greek and Roman achievements. In recent years due to the efforts of Joseph Needham, the Chinese accomplishments in metallurgy are now better appreciated.

Through the present monograph is intended to highlight the Indian contributions in the field of metallurgy during antiquity. This is being attempted by knitting together the evidence brought forward by archaeological excavations of various cultural horizons and technical reports on the metal artefacts.

In post-independent India there has been a great spurt in archaeological excavations with the result that a large number of archaeological sites (more than 500) have been excavated and various cultural horizons have been exposed. A list of important excavated archaeological sites (province wise) is given at the end of this chapter.

India has a rich heritage in metallurgy, right from Harappan period when metallurgy flowered in its full bloom with copper, bronze, arsenical bronzes, gold, silver, lead and their alloys. From this context all those metals and alloys which are known in other parts of the world are reported. In addition to utilitarian objects, art objects (metal icons) like dancing girl of Mohenjo-daro and many metal images have been known from Lothal, Kalibangan, Harappa and Mohenjo-daro etc. Recently 60 kg. solid castings of rhino, elephant, buffalo and a man drawn chariot have been reported from Daimabad. A large number of celts and arrow heads have been reported from Ganeshwar.

After the demise of Harappa culture, the various chalcolithic cultures in different parts of India show a retrograde metallurgy. Only copper and low grade bronzes are produced, that too in a limited range and quantity.

Shortage of tin in antiquity looks to be a global affair. There looks to have been general shortage of tin after Harappan period. Neither the Chalcolithic cultures nor the Copper-hoard people used tin alloying. The problems of shortage of tin and its sources have been considered.

Copper-hoards associated with O.C.P. culture bring richness in copper. Their main objects are hunting tools: antennae swords, harpoons and anthropomorphs. Idea of the richness of metal can be had from the fact that Gungeria (Dt. Balaghat, M.P.) Copper-hoard alone yielded 424 copper implements weighing 400 kg. of copper.

Megalithic culture in Deccan and South and Painted Grey ware culture in the North look to have ushured in Iron Age in India and by the middle of first millennium Be iron metallurgy is well established. The fact that Alexander the Great was presented with 30 kg. of Indian steel as a gift by Porus, speaks for the excellence of Indian steel. The idea of the abundance and richness of iron can be had from the variety of iron objects and their quantity from Megalithic graves spread from Adichanallur (Dt. Tinnevelly) to Nagpur. These include bimetallic objects, horse ornaments, snaffle bits, swords, spears, javelins etc. Innovation of making crucible steel, popularly known as wootz steel is another landmark of Indian iron and steel heritage of India. Mass scale production of iron in the early centuries of Christian era, culminating into the fabrication of the so-called Delhi (Mehraulli) iron pillar weighing about 5 ton is an ample proof of the profusion of this metal. The use of iron for non-utilitarian purpose in such a massive way and large smithy work-shops necessary for forging such a big pillar bear ample testimony to the thriving iron industry in India, the like of which is not met any where in the contemporary world.

Though silver was known during Harappan period (third millennium Be). This metal almost goes into oblivion for 2000 years. It re- emerges in the form of coinage, popularly known as Punch-Marked coins along with the start of N.B.P. (Northern Black Polished Ware culture) datable to C. 600 Be Once the coinage started, coins were struck and cast in all the known metals and their alloys, except that of iron. Large scale use of lead for the coinage by the Satavahanas and artistic gold coinage of the Gupta period also deserve mention.

Deep mining of gold mines at Kollar and Hutti in Karnataka going 600 feet deep shows well developed mining technology in antiquity.

Zinc as a separate metal was not known before AD 1748 in Europe, till William Champion introduced its smelting, which he learnt from India. Credit for inventing the smelting of zinc by distillation goes to India as attested-from the explorations at Zawar (Dt. Udaipur, Rajasthan) during early centuries. of Christian era. The details of the process of zinc distillation operative in India are discussed in a separate chapter along with the use of brass (an alloy of copper and zinc) which preceded isolation of zinc by about a thousand years.




  List of Tables VI
  List of Figures XI
  Preface XIII
Chapter I Introduction 1
Chapter 2 Copper and Bronze Metallurgy 11-63
Chapter 3 Archaeo-Metallurgy of Gold 70-95
Chapter 4 Metallurgy of Silver and Lead in Indian Archaeology 98-114
Chapter 5 Metallurgy of Zinc and Brass 117-131
Chapter 6 Metallurgical Studies of Ancient India Coinage 133-154
Chapter 7 Iron and Steel in Indian Archaeology 157-189
Chapter 8 Socio-economic Aspects of Mettalurgy 195-211

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