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Finding a common ground? Debating the origins, use and manufacture of metals in the European Bronze Age

last modified Jul 02, 2018 08:38 AM
New paper collates various scholarly views for the benefit of future research

Copper and tin ingots found at the Bronze Age shipwreck site off the coast of Salcombe

Copper and tin ingots found at the Bronze Age shipwreck site off the coast of Salcombe, 

(Copyright South West Maritime Archaeology Group)


Bronze is the defining metal of the European Bronze Age, a period of prehistory, which occurred between 4500 and 1800 years ago (2500-800 BCE). Bronze was fundamental to communities for tools, weapons, trade, status and religion. It also gives us the first evidence of a truly pan-European trade system with tonnes of metal being moved over land, along rivers and across seas each year.

This alloy of copper and tin has been at the centre of archaeological and science-based research for well over a century and studies have focused on a variety of aspects: geological origins, manufacture, movement of goods and knowledge between communities, and the value and perceptions of the metal.

But, as with many research subjects, there are different approaches and methodologies to collecting and interpreting the data.

A new paper published today in the Journal of Archaeological Research brings together an international team of scholars, collating the current state of debate on the provenance, use and circulation of metals in the European Bronze Age.

According to lead author Dr Miljana Radivojevic of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, “This is one of those rare papers where the lead experts, who often have contrasting opinions, have done something collectively to create a joint platform that sets the future tone for future debates on the lifeways of past societies through metal analysis.”

The team of co-authors met in Cambridge in March 2016 (l-r): Marcos Martinón-Torres, Thilo Rehren, Miljana Radivojevic, Helle Vandkilde, Ernst Pernicka, Benjamin Roberts, Cyprian Broodbank, Zofia Stos-Gale, Johan Ling, Kristian Kristiansen, Stephen Shennan, Peter Bray and Jianjun Mei

But, it was not always an easy process.

“We went through almost 120 versions of this paper and it took nearly two years to arrive at a final version accepted by all 14 researchers, but it has been a hugely rewarding experience. We tackled, for instance, everything from the high resolution evidence on technology of copper smelting, to the emergence of large scale metal production and connectivity across the European continent some 4,000 years ago”, added Dr Benjamin Roberts, a co-author from Durham’s Department of Archaeology.

“We hope that this paper will stimulate similar undertakings in the field,” Dr Radivojevic concluded.

The paper is published open access in the Journal of Archaeological Research.

Radivojević, M., Roberts, B.W., Pernicka, E. et al. J Archaeol Res (2018).


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