Thesis Info

The enigma of the dancing pancha-loha (five metal) icons: archaeometallurgical and art historical investigations on south Indian bronzes’
Dr Sharada Srinivasan
2nd Author
3rd Author
Number of Pages
Institute of Archaeology, University College London, University of London
Thesis Supervisor
Dr Ian Glover
Supervisor e-mail
maox43 AT
Other Supervisor(s)
Dr Dafydd Griffiths
Language(s) of Thesis
Department / Discipline
Department of Materials Science and Conservation/Archaeometallurgy and Archaeomaterials
Languages Familiar to Author
English, French, Tamil
URL where full thesis can be found
South Indian metal icons, art history, archaeometallurgy, lead isotope analysis, finger-printing
Abstract: 200-400 words
The problems with dating South Indian bronze images, which are ranked by scholars and art connoisseurs as amongst the most important and prolific artistic expressions of the subcontinent, are explored from inter-disciplinary archaeometallurgical and art historical perspectives. The usefulness of technical investigations (such as compositional analysis and lead isotope analysis) in better contextualising the bronzes and understanding the history of technology is argued. Thus over 125 artefacts were sampled and analysed for major, minor and trace elements by spectro-chemical analysis (such as ICP-OES) and 60 for lead isotope ratios (using TIMS) to give a significant number of analyses to compare trends. This has been the most extensive application of lead isotope archaeology in the study South Asian art. The art historical criteria for dating South Indian bronzes are explored and a chronological framework for stylistically dating the bronzes is developed based on a wide study of published material and a visual comparison of bronzes sampled with published photographs. Then the archaeometallurgical evidence of compositional and lead isotope analysis is compared with the stylistic evidence to corroborate, modify or revise existing dates. It is found that technical studies help to ratify previously identified stylistic dates, to increase the understanding of the attributions of specific examples of South Indian statuary and thus the uncertain attributions of over half the sampled collection have been revised. Comparisons between slags, ores and artifacts from ancient mining sites in South India have also been made using EPMA analysis, to explore the possible sources of metal, for non-ferrous working along with lead isotope analysis in selected cases. The sites from which ancient mining activity was documented through original field work include Mamandur, Tamil Nadu, Ingaldhal, Kalyadi, Machnur and Tintini in Karnataka, Agnigundala, Vudicherla, Malapadu and Somalaragada in Andhra Pradesh. Ethnographic studies of continuing metalworking traditions such as image casting at Swamimalai in Tamil Nadu are also reported which were undertaken to better understand metallurgical features of ancient bronzes in comparison to recent ones. Previously undocumented traditions of making artifacts of specialised high-tin bronze alloys from archaeological contexts in southern India and as surviving traditions in Kerala were unearthed. Thus this study has in the process uncovered new data on the history of metallurgy of the region. From both art historical and materials science perspectives, several important findings emerged. Technical finger-printing indicates that it is possible to tell apart early medieval Chola bronzes from later medieval Vijayanagara and other bronzes due to the very distinctive metallurgical profile, providing a method also of identifying genuine antiques. The existence of a Pallava (c. 7th-mid 9th century) school of bronzes as distinct from Imperial Chola (late 9th-mid 11th century), which has been debated in the art historical literature due the lack of inscribed bronzes, seems to be ratified from the reasonably distinctive metallurgical profile. From this an exciting new finding seems to be that the celebrated Nataraja bronze icon of the dancing Hindu god Siva, acclaimed even by Rodin, is likely to have been formulated in the earlier Pallava rather than Chola period. There are also now more grounds to argue for the attribution of early historic bronzes to southern India, and to tell apart Sri Lankan from South Indian bronzes. There is also new evidence from southern India for some of the earliest known use anywhere in the world of metallic zinc (from the early historic period, c. 4th century) and high tin bronze (going back to the megalithic period of the early to late first millennium BC).