Diversity of resources and volatility of metallurgical networks – multi-methodological provenance analysis of Neolithic and EBA-copper-artefacts from Switzerland and Eastern France

Gross, Eda; van Willigen, Samuel; Villa, Igor M.; Schaeren, Gishan F.; Cardani Vergani, Rossana; Nielsen, Ebbe H.; Pétrequin, Pierre; Reitmaier, Thomas; Schaeppi, Kathrin; Schmitt-Ott, Katharina; Steinhauser-Zimmermann, Regula; Hildbrand, Erwin (2021). Diversity of resources and volatility of metallurgical networks – multi-methodological provenance analysis of Neolithic and EBA-copper-artefacts from Switzerland and Eastern France. Archaeological and anthropological sciences, 13(180), pp. 1-34. Springer 10.1007/s12520-021-01423-z

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39 Neolithic and Early Bronze Age copper objects (primarily axe blades and daggers) from Central, southern and eastern Switzerland or eastern France were analysed typochronologically, chemically and with regard to their lead isotope ratios. This combination of methods allows for more differentiated and reliable conclusions about the provenances of the copper ores and metallurgies than the individual methods could provide in isolation. The primacy of the typochronological classification is paramount for assessing the scientific results appropriately.
For the period between c. 4300 and c. 1800 BCE there is evidence of at least seven different metallurgical traditions found in the Prealps, some of them stemming from far-away innovation hotspots. These metallurgies do not form part of a continuous tradition; instead, they emerge unexpectedly and disappear again just as abruptly. This could hint at the fragility and volatility of these strands of tradition and the groups who keep them.
Between 4300 and 3500 BCE there was a multitude of types, groups of copper compositions and isotope ratios. Arsenic plays an essential role in the composition of copper during this time. Such arsenic-enriched copper is generally referred to as ‘arsenic copper’. It is likely that a considerable share of the raw material used in arsenic copper from this first heyday of copper metallurgy originates from the Slovak or Saxon-Bohemian Ore Mountains. Nevertheless, it seems likely that arsenic copper was at least partially cast locally in the pile dwelling of the Prealps and forged into the shapes known from these areas. According to our analyses, the raw material of some of the objects found in the Swiss Prealps, whether they are arsenic copper or not, could also stem from the eastern Alpine region. Concentrations of crucible and axe blade finds are not necessarily evidence for ore deposits in close proximity, as was assumed in the case of Mondsee and Attersee; these finds could also be indicative of local salt sources, with the salt being exchanged for copper from other areas.
The copper of the flanged axe blades from the last quarter of the 4th millennium BCE found mainly south of the Alps – in isolation also north of the Alps – is very similar to the early arsenic copper mentioned above. The axe blades’ distribution patterns and the ‘fingerprint’ of their lead isotope ratios suggest that this later arsenic copper has its origin in the metallurgical centres in South Tuscany. These innovations from the West Mediterranean inspired the metallurgical traditions in the South of France (e.g. Cabrières, Montagne Noire) and the south-western Alps (Massifs des Grandes Rousses, Saint Véran).

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of Archaeological Sciences > Pre- and Early History
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences > Isotope Geology

UniBE Contributor:

Villa, Igor Maria, Nielsen, Ebbe Holm


900 History > 930 History of ancient world (to ca. 499)
500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology
500 Science
900 History








Igor Maria Villa-Toscani

Date Deposited:

23 Jan 2023 08:53

Last Modified:

23 Jan 2023 23:28

Publisher DOI:






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