Beyond Provenance: Using the chemical composition of copper-alloys to explore technology and metal flow

Author(s): Peter Bray

Year: 2015


The vast chemical datasets for copper-alloy objects are a tremendous, but underused, opportunity. These data were often considered objective fixed points that represented chronological sequences and geographical provenance. Recent work has demonstrated that, though the object composition is fixed, it is only a final characterisation. Bringing together material science, archaeological, and conceptual approaches, we discuss the life histories of units of metal. Before being cast into the final object a unit of metal may have gone through chains of melting, mixing, deposition and recovery, alloying, and smithing. Luckily there are predictable chemical changes that accompany these technological effects. Our analysis approach emphasises a pragmatic way of interpreting data, which teases apart the palimpsest of factors that contributes to the analysed values. Using this new method, this paper will discuss case studies exploring how technological changes occurred within early metallurgy. The first is ‘horizontal’ using the chemical dataset for Bronze Age Europe. From individual objects, through workshops, regions, and onto a continental scale, we will discuss the nature of the flow of metal and ideas. A second case study is ‘vertical’ and compares the characteristics of technology and exchange for Britain from the start of metallurgy to the Industrial Revolution.

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Cite this Record

Beyond Provenance: Using the chemical composition of copper-alloys to explore technology and metal flow. Peter Bray. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 396403)


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min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;