Sediments from Liangzhi Lake in Hubei Province suggest bronze working by about 3000 +/- 328 BC. Hubei is in south-central China (middle Yangtze), and the findings could be associated with Daxi or Qujialing cultures.
Hubei province, Wikipedia
Similar radiocarbon dates have been obtained for bronze in Thailand (Non Nok Tha, Ban Chiang) and the Philippines (Balobok).
- Environ Sci Technol. 2008 Jul 1;42(13):4732-8.
Seven thousand years of records on the mining and utilization of metals from lake sediments in central China.
Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
A 268 cm section of sediment core from Liangzhi Lake in Hubei province in central China was used to assess the use and accumulation of metals in the lake in the past 7,000 years. The concentrations of trace metals, including Cu, Pb, Ni, and Zn, and major elements, Ca, Fe, and Mg, in a 14C- dated segment of sediment core were analyzed. Historical trends on the input of metals to Liangzhi Lake from around 5000 BC to the present were recorded in the sediments, representing about 7,000 years of history on the mining and utilization of metals in central China. The concentrations of Cu, Ni, Pb, and Zn increased gradually from about 3000 +/- 328 BC, indicating the start of the Bronze Age in ancient China. During the period 467 +/- 257 to 215 +/- 221 AD, there was a rapid increase in the concentrations of these metals in the sediments, indicating enormous inputs of these metals at that time. This era corresponded to China's Warring States Period (475- 221 BC) and the early Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), during which copper and lead were extensively used in making bronze articles such as vessels, tools, and weapons. From 1880 +/- 35 AD to the early 1900s, there was also a significant increase in the concentrations of metals such as Cu, Ni, and Pb, which probably reflected the metal emissions and utilization during the early period of industrial development and weapon manufacture during the wars in China. The Pb isotopic analysis showed that the surface and subsurface sediments had lower 206Pb/207Pb and 208Pb/ 207Pb ratios than the deeper layers, reflecting the additional input of Pb from mining activities that took place during the Bronze Age era and in modern times. This study provides direct evidence of the environmental impact of the mining and utilization of metals in the last 7,000 years in one of the important regions of Chinese civilization.