Pin without head Hr 18152 - Tin Bronze - Late Bronze Age - Switzerland

Pin without head Hr 18152

Marianne. Senn (Empa, Dübendorf, Zurich, Switzerland) & Christian. Degrigny (HE-Arc CR, Neuchâtel, Neuchâtel, Switzerland)

Complementary information

Smooth and dense brown-yellow patina has been extensively described by Schweizer (Schweizer 1994).

The schematic representation below gives an overview of the corrosion layers encountered on the pin from a first visual macroscopic observation.

Fig. 8: Stratigraphic representation of the pin without head under binocular using the MiCorr application. The characteristics of the strata are only accessible by clicking on the drawing that redirects you to the search tool by stratigraphy representation, credit MiCorr_HE-Arc CR.

Complementary information

This sample is mentioned in Schweizer, 1994.

Analyses performed:
Metallography (etched with ferric chloride reagent), Vickers hardness testing, XRF, ICP-OES, SEM/EDS, XRD, Raman spectroscopy.


The remaining metal is a tin bronze and contains copper sulphide as well as heavy metal (Pb-rich) inclusions (Table 1, Figs. 10 and 11). Close to the surface of the remaining metal, copper sulphide inclusions are elongated and form rows (Fig. 10). The etched structure of the tin bronze shows polygonal grains; some of them are twinned (Fig. 12). In the centre of the sample and on the edges, the grains are smaller. The copper sulphide inclusions are located at the grain boundaries and in the grains. The average hardness of the metal is about HV1 110.

Elements Cu Sn Pb Sb As Ag Fe Ni Co Zn
mass% 89.22 9.57 0.34 0.26 0.19 0.15 0.09 0.05 0.06 0.05

Table 1: Chemical composition of the metal. Method of analysis: ICP-OES, Laboratory of Analytical Chemistry, Empa.

Complementary information

Schweizer (1994) indicates that the copper-tin alloys similar to the one of the pin have minor constituents that were certainly not added intentionally. Furthermore, he mentions that there is no systematic composition difference between bronzes with a lake patina and those with a land patina.

The corrosion crust (patina) is regular in thickness (around 50µm, Fig. 4). It presents lacuna (Fig. 2) and in some areas it is missing completely (Fig. 9). At the metal - corrosion crust interface, there is a crack showing that the latter has separated from the metal core along its whole length (Figs. 4, 9, 10, 13-14). The corrosion crust can be divided into three distinct layers (CP1-3). Directly above the crack is a first dense but cracked and irregular inner layer (CP3, Figs. 4, 13-14). In bright field it appears brown (Fig. 15), in normal and polarised light dark brown (Figs. 2 and 16). It is separated from the adjacent layer by a clear line (Figs. 14 and 15). The second layer (CP2) is dense with little porosity (Figs. 13 and 14). In bright field it appears light brown (fig. 15), in polarised dark dark yellow (Fig. 16). The third and outermost layer (CP1) appears light brown under normal light (Fig. 3) and in bright field (Fig. 15), contains particles (Fig. 14) and is very porous (visible as golden reflections under polarized light, Fig. 16). These results are entirely consistent with Schweizer's observations (Schweizer 1994). The elemental chemical distribution of the SEM image selected reveals that the inner layer (CP3) is depleted in Cu, but rich in Sn,O and Si (Fig. 17 and Table 2) and its interface with the intermediate layer (CP2) could represent the limit of the original surface (Figs. 14 and 17). The second and third layer (CP2 and CP1) are Fe, Cu and S-rich (Fig. 17) and have a composition similar to chalcopyrite/CuFeS2 (Table 2). This was confirmed by XRD. The particles (inclusions) have a composition similar to covelline or covellite/CuS (Table 2). Both chalcopyrite and covelline have been identified by Raman spectroscopy (Figs. 18 and 19).


S Fe Cu O Si Sn Total
CP1 and CP2 35 30 34 < < < 99
Particles in CP1 26 4.1 68 < < < 98
CP3 5.8 5.0 13 32 2 41 99

Table 2: Chemical composition (mass %) of the corrosion layers from Fig. 15. Method of analysis: SEM/EDS, Laboratory of Analytical Chemistry, Empa.

Complementary information

Schweizer (1994) indicates that CP3 shows evidence of pseudomorphic replacement of metal grains by corrosion products that we did not observe.

Fig. 20: Stratigraphic representation of the sample taken from the pin without head in cross-section (dark field) using the MiCorr application. The characteristics of the strata are only accessible by clicking on the drawing that redirects you to the search tool by stratigraphy representation. This representation can be compared to Fig. 15, credit MiCorr_HE-Arc CR.

The stratigraphies observed under binocular and cross-section are rather similar. It is not possible though to distinguish the compact underlayer (CP2 in cross-section) under binocular. 

The pin is made from tin bronze and has been annealed after cold working. It is covered with a regular, dense brown-yellow patina typical of lake context (Schweizer 1994). The inner, thin Sn-rich corrosion layer contains soil elements such as Si. The brown-yellow, thick intermediate and outer corrosion layers have the composition of chalcopyrite. This object was certainly abandoned rather quickly in an anaerobic, humid and S and Fe-rich environment, favouring the formation of the above mentioned compound. The limit of the original surface can be located between the chalcopyrite and the Cu depleted but Sn-rich inner corrosion layer. Thus, the corrosion is a type 1 according to Robbiola et al. 1998.

References on object and sample

References object
1. Rychner-Faraggi A-M. (1993) Hauterive – Champréveyres 9. Métal et parure au Bronze final. Archéologie neuchâteloise, 17 (Neuchâtel).
2. Hochuli, S. et al. (1988) SPM III Bronzezeit , Verlag Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Ur- und Frühgschichte Basel, 76-77, 379.

References sample
3. Empa Report 137 695/1991, P.O. Boll.
4. Rapport d'examen, Lab. Musées d'Art et d'Histoire, Geneva GE, 87-194 à 87-197.
5. Schweizer, F. (1994) Bronze objects from Lake sites: from patina to bibliography. In: Ancient and historic metals, conservation and scientific research (eds. Scott, D.A., Podany, J. and Considine B.B.), The Getty Conservation Institute, 33-50.

References on analytic methods and interpretation

6. Robbiola, L., Blengino, J-M., Fiaud, C. (1998) Morphology and mechanisms of formation of natural patinas on archaeological Cu-Sn alloys, Corrosion Science, 40, 12, 2083-2111.