Elemental and Lead Isotopic Data of Copper Finds from the Singen Cemetery, Germany – a Methodological Approach to Investigate Early Bronze Age Trade Networks

Villa, Igor Maria; Cattin, Florence; Merkl, Matthias B; Strahm, Christian (23 May 2014). Elemental and Lead Isotopic Data of Copper Finds from the Singen Cemetery, Germany – a Methodological Approach to Investigate Early Bronze Age Trade Networks (Unpublished). In: International Symposium on Archaeometry. Los Angeles, California. 19.-23.05.2014.

We report a trace element - Pb isotope analytical (LIA) database on the "Singen Copper", a peculiar type of copper found in the North Alpine realm, from its type locality, the Early Bronze Age Singen Cemetery (Germany). What distinguishes “Singen Copper” from other coeval copper types? (i) is it a discrete metal lot with a uniform provenance (if so, can its provenance be constrained)? (ii) was it manufactured by a special, unique metallurgical process that can be discriminated from others?
Trace element concentrations can give clues on the ore types that were mined, but they can be modified (more or less intentionally) by metallurgical operations. A more robust indicator are the ratios of chemically similar elements (e.g. Co/Ni, Bi/Sb, etc.), since they should remain nearly constant during metallurgical operations, and are expected to behave homogeneously in each mineral of a given mining area, but their partition amongst the different mineral species is known to cause strong inter-element fractionations. We tested the trace element ratio pattern predicted by geochemical arguments on the Brixlegg mining area. Brixlegg itself is not compatible with the Singen Copper objects, and we only report it because it is a rare instance of a mining area for which sufficient trace element analyses are available in the literature. We observe that As/Sb in fahlerz varies by a factor 1.8 above/below median; As/Sb in enargite varies by a factor of 2.5 with a 10 times higher median.
Most of the 102 analyzed metal objects from Singen are Sb-Ni-rich, corresponding to “antimony-nickel copper” of the literature. Other trace element concentrations vary by > 100 times, ratios by factors > 50. Pb isotopic compositions are all significantly different from each other. They do not form a single linear array and require > 3 ore batches that certainly do not derive from one single mining area.
Our data suggest a heterogeneous provenance of “Singen copper”. Archaeological information limits the scope to Central European sources. LIA requires a diverse supply network from many mining localities, including possibly Brittany. Trace element ratios show more heterogeneity than LIA; this can be explained either by deliberate selection of one particular ore mineral (from very many sources) or by processing of assorted ore minerals from a smaller number of sources, with the unintentional effect that the quality of the copper would not be constant, as the metallurgical properties of alloys would vary with trace element concentrations.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Abstract)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Villa, Igor Maria


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology
900 History > 940 History of Europe




Igor Maria Villa-Toscani

Date Deposited:

19 Sep 2014 10:07

Last Modified:

19 Sep 2014 10:07



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