The long history of lost wax casting

L. B. Hunt
1980 Gold Bulletin  
The origins of lost wax or investment casting, often known as cire perdue, and still the most accurate and reliable means of reproducing complex shapes in gold or other metals with all the fine detail of an original pattern, go back to the very first civilisations in the Near East and to a combination of primitive art, religion and metallurgy. The historical development of the process and its several variations are reviewed here as well as its transmission to other parts of the world. The
more » ... ery that metals could be melted and cast to shape in moulds was one of the major strides towards civilisation made by early man. Some time before 4 000 B.C., almost certainly independently in several different regions, and after long experiment with coloured minerals like malachite and azurite that had attracted his attention, man began the smelting of copper. There is no certainty about the dates of this first step in metallurgy nor about the exact locations, but in Anatolia, in the highlands of Iran, in Syria and Palestine, and even in Thailand, there is evidence of smelting around this time. The next stage was of course the casting of copper in simple open moulds made of stone or less often in clay to produce simple tools, to be followed by the use of two-part moulds in which both faces of the object could be fashioned. These first smelting and casting operations were undoubtedly carried out in a crude type of kiln or furnace with some forced draught developed for the making of pottery, and the early metal worker would have needed the cooperation of the potter not only for this purpose but also for the production of his crucibles. Potters in these times were well accustomed to the making of small human and animal figures, representations either naturalistic or symbolic used as votive objects to please the numerous gods associated with early religions in the Among the very earliest lost wax castings known are small figures of animals mounted on pins and dowelled into the centre of cylinder seals, devices used before the invention of writing to form a characteristic impression on moist clay as an indication of ownership or agreement to a transaction. This seal, carved with figures of cattle, carries a recumbent ram cast in copper and comes from the Uruk period in Mesopotamia, around 3 500 B.G. Photograph by courtesy of the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford Near East and elsewhere. Such statuettes had for many centuries also been carved in various types of stone, while small human figures were often made in beeswax either as religious symbols or, when thrown on to a fire, as a means of removing or avoiding a curse from an enemy. At an unknown date somewhere in the middle of the fourth millenium B.C. -again possibly independently in more than one region -either a potter 63
doi:10.1007/bf03215456 fatcat:c2slkby2obg6pnftb5q6k4lqx4