Metal production and circulation in Bronze Age Europe
The hypothesis that trace element concentrations should be a guide to the provenance of ancient metals has been formulated more than hundred years ago. Although very large analytical programs of ancient metal objects were based on this concept its validity was in dispute and seemed to be unclear for a certain time. Opinions ranged from complete rejection to uncritical acception. Although such studies provided a wealth of information and new insights, the quest for provenance was considered as not successful. The interest in provenance of metals was revived with the introduction of lead isotope studies and, indeed, some convincing relations between certain types of objects and certain ore regions could be established. Nowadays all these data are re-emerging and are interpreted in new ways.
This lecture will provide an overview of the present status of provenance analysis of ancient metals from the analytical and archaeological point of view and will discuss new approaches and concepts that were introduced recently and assess their potential for a deeper insight into prehistoric metal production and trade.
Application of these principles and conclusions will be demonstrated by large-scale investigations concerning the Bronze Age copper production in the eastern Alps and other possible sources of copper in central Europe like the Saxobohemian and the Slovakian Ore Mountains. The distributions of various types of copper in space and time have been extensively studied, from which hypotheses on the Bronze Age metal trade can be deduced. A comprehensive example of an integrated approach is the multidisciplinary study of the Early Bronze Age metal ingots of the Ösenring and rib ingot types in central Europe. Another example will deal with the emergence and distribution of arsenical copper and, finally, the thorny problem of mixing and recycling of metal will be dealt with.