Copper Mining and Bronze Production in Shandong Province: A New Perspective on the Political Economy of the Shang State

Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Underhill, Anne


This dissertation investigates the political economy and social dynamics in Shandong province, located to the east of the core area of the Shang state of China (ca. 1600-1050 BC), from the perspectives of bronze production, distribution, and consumption. Influenced by the long tradition of centralized state power in China, Shandong has long been seen as an important area that was incorporated into the Shang Dynasty during the later Early Shang period (beginning ca. 1400 BC), mainly based on similarities in material culture. Considering an alternative to the “centralization” model, I propose a Negotiation Model, applying a network theory of states that sees the Shang as a decentralized state and the local elites in Shandong as active agents that may have contributed to the dynamics of the Shang state. The two competing models, the Centralization versus Negotiation Model, are tested by investigating how local elites in Shandong interacted with high elites in the Shang capitals in Henan through bronze production and exchange. I apply a multi-proxy approach to test two pairs of contrasting material expectations: 1) whether bronze production existed in Shandong, and 2) whether local elites in Shandong managed to exploit local metal resources. My research includes three major aspects: 1) stylistic and scientific analyses (casting technology, alloy composition, trace elements, and lead isotope data) of bronze objects from multiple sites in Shandong, including Daxinzhuang, Liujiazhuang, Xiaotun, Subutun, and Gucheng; 2) archaeometallurgical survey of possible copper mining and smelting sites in two copper-rich areas, Zouping and Laiwu; and 3) scientific analyses of metallurgical remains related to copper smelting and bronze casting from Daxinzhuang and Yingcheng in Shandong. This research reveals changes in bronze production and circulation in Shandong during different periods of the Shang and provides an opportunity to better understand the social and political dynamics of Shandong. My surveys in copper-rich areas in Zouping and Laiwu and analyses of metallurgical remains related to bronze production at Yingcheng and Daxinzhuang provided evidence for major components of the operational sequence for the production of bronze objects in Shandong. I identified copper smelting slags from Yingcheng that are dated to the Shang period. The lead isotope data show that all the slags from Laiwu contain highly radiogenic lead, similar to the metallurgical remains and bronze objects from the Daxinzhuang early period (ca. 1350-1200 BC). The discovery of ceramic molds for producing vessels and my examination of copper ores, crucibles, and metal fragments provide new technical details about bronze production at Daxinzhuang. My analysis of bronze objects from multiple sites in Shandong reveals that the nature of bronze production in Shandong (mainly at Daxinzhuang) changed over time. I argue that elites in Shandong changed their strategies for interacting with the high elites in the capital according to the dynamic socio-political situation. Even under the same political situation, elites from different sites would decide how they wanted to collaborate or compete with the high elites based on their own interests. Thus, I argue that my Negotiation Model can better interpret the agency of local elites under the dynamic socio-political situation of a state. The decisions of high elites in the capitals and local elites in the surrounding areas both contributed to the dynamic nature of the Shang state. My dissertation shows that studying the production and distribution of bronze objects, especially vessels, the most important high culture material during this period, provides a new perspective on the dynamic interaction between the high elites in the capitals and local elites in the surrounding areas. It also demonstrates the importance of incorporating multiple lines of evidence—including styles, casting technology, chemical composition, and lead isotope data—into the analysis of bronze objects in order to understand how the Shang states operated.

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