ingots ox skin (in English known as oxhide ingots) are metal plates mainly made of copper, although sometimes also made of tin, which were produced during the Late Bronze Age on the island of Cyprus and were later distributed throughout the Mediterranean.
They were used, at least from 1500 BC, as a means of transporting copper and selling it in bulk throughout the Mediterranean by sea, and its use disappeared around 1000 BC.
Its shape resembles the skin of an ox with a protruding handle or handle on each of its corners, which is why they are called that, although the name they originally had is unknown.
The shape was thought to indicate that the value of each ingot was roughly the equivalent of an ox, but today experts agree that this is just a coincidence and that the shape is more a function of ease of transport.
Some researchers such as Cemal Pulak believe that they may have served as a type of primitive currency. In this sense, the ingots found in some wrecks (sunken ships) of the time are what similar enough as to have allowed a approximate but fast calculation of a certain amount of raw metal. However, the weights of the ingots vary from one find to another, and this seems to indicate that they cannot be considered as currency.
Archaeologists have recovered many ingots of this type, mainly from two shipwrecks off the coast of Turkey: that of the Uluburun, to which we have already devoted the article The fantastic cargo of the Uluburun, a Bronze Age ship of uncertain origin, and another at Cape Gelidonya.
The Uluburun contained 317 copper ingots in their normal oxhide form, 36 with only two protrusions at the corners, 121 in the form of buns, and five in the form of a pillow. The weight of these ingots ranges from 20.1 to 29.5 kg after being cleaned of corrosion. They were found stacked in four rows following a herringbone pattern. In addition to metal ingots, the cargo included ivory, jewelry, and Mycenaean, Cypriot, and Canaanite pottery.
The wood transported by the Uluburun corresponded to trees cut between 1316 and 1305 BC according to the study of their rings, which indicates that this may be the date of its last trip and sinking. This is corroborated by the Mycenaean pottery found on board, which corresponds to that found at the level of the destruction of Miletus by the Hittite king Mursili II, which occurred in 1312 BC.
The Cape Gelidonya shipwreck contained 34 ingots ox skin as well as numerous honeycomb ingots, rectangular tin bars, and Cypriot agricultural tools made of bronze. Radiocarbon dating of the wood carried by the ship gives an approximate date of 1200 BC
In the archaeological site of Ras Ibn Hani, in Syria, a mold was found to melt ingots ox skinmade from a type of fine-grained limestone.
Cypriot bronze stand (circa 1250-1050 BC) with a figure of a man carrying an ‘oxhide’ ingot on his shoulders, in the British Museum / photo British Museum
The importance of these ingots in the Mediterranean and particularly Cypriot economy is evident from the fact that, during the Late Bronze Age, Cyprus produced numerous bronze supports that included figurines representing a man carrying an ingot type ox skin. The ingots show the typical shape of four protruding handles, and the men carry them on their shoulders. According to Vassos Karageorghis and George Papasavvas, these artifacts are among the most impressive metal objects produced in the eastern Mediterranean.
Although only one fragment of ingot has been found ox skin in Egypt, there are numerous painted scenes showing representations of men carrying this type of ingot. The oldest dates from the 15th century BC and the most recent from the 12th century BC. The ingots show their typical four protuberances, and red paint is preserved on them (suggesting that they were represented as being made of copper).
The inscriptions that accompany the paintings explain that the men who brought the ingots came from the north, specifically from Retenu (the name that the Egyptians gave to the regions of Palestine and Syria) and Keftiu (Caphtor, a disputed location).
Relief of Amenhotep II shooting arrows at an ox skin ingot (Luxor Museum) / photo Kairoinfo4u on Flickr
A relief from Karnak depicts Pharaoh Amenhotep II riding a chariot and shooting arrows at an ingot ox skin, who already has another 5 dunks. He references one of the pharaoh’s greatest athletic achievements: shooting arrows at a copper ingot while driving a chariot with the reins tied around his waist.
he entered his northern garden and found that four Asian copper targets of a palm had been fixed to him in his thickness, with 20 cubits between a post and his mate. Then the majesty of him appeared in a chariot as Montu the god of war in all his might. He grabbed his bow and four arrows at the same time. So he rode north, shooting at them like Montu in his robes. His arrows had come out from behind him as he attacked another post. It was really a deed that had never been done or heard of: shooting an arrow at a copper target that pierced it and fell to the ground – except the king…
Shooting arrows at copper ingots was one of the favorite sports of the pharaohs at that time.
Other representations of people carrying them as tribute are found on the obelisk of Rassam (Ashurnasirpal II), the pedestal of the throne of Shalmaneser III with representations of Syrian tributaries, and a painting from a tomb in Thebes, where a person carries an ingot to the shoulder and in hand a Minoan-type vase.
Painting from the tomb of Rekhmire in Thebes, Egypt, circa 1504-1425 BC depicting a Cretan carrying an ‘ox-skin’ ingot on his shoulder / public domain photo at Met Museum
In 1963, excavations at Enkomi, a Bronze Age site in north-western Cyprus, found a bronze statuette, about 35 centimeters high, representing a god who has been called ingot god. He carries a spear and a small shield and stands on a base in the shape of an ox hide, exactly like the one on the copper ingots. He is a divinity of Syrian-Palestinian origin, a god of the tempest or storm, but also of the genetic and fertilizing force that is identified with the ox or bull.
In the 1980s another statuette of a divinity was found, this time female and from the 12th century BC, arranged on an ingot ox skinand who was identified as the fertility goddess of the copper mines.
As Vassos Karageorghis and George Papasavvas say: Apparently no one warned the ancient world to beware of Cypriots carrying bullion. Thus, Cypriots continued to carry their ingots at home and abroad, and Cypriot blacksmiths did not fail to represent some of them in action.
A bronze ingot-bearer from Cyprus (Vassos Karageorghis and George Papasavvas) / Normalized metal ingots in the Near East from the Eneolithic to the Bronze Age (LIAvilova and NNTerejova) / Cape Gelidonya: A Bronze Age Shipwreck. George F. Bass, Peter Throckmorton, Joan Du Plat Taylor, JB Hennessy, Alan R. Shulman, and Hans-Günter Buchholz. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society Vol. 57, No. 8 (1967), p. 1-177, DOI: 10.2307/1005978/ Oxhide Copper Ingots in Crete and Cyprus and the Bronze Age Metals Trade, NH Gale and ZA Stos-Gale. The Annual of the British School at Athens Vol. 81 (1986), p. 81-100, jstor.org/stable/i30102884/Wikipedia.