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The Provenance, Use, and Circulation of Metals in the European Bronze Age: The State of Debate

Journal article
Authors Miljana Radivojević
Benjamin W. Roberts
Ernst Pernicka
Zofia Stos-Gale
Marcos Martinón-Torres
Thilo Rehren
Peter Bray
Dirk Brandherm
Johan Ling
Jianjun Mei
Helle Vandkilde
Kristian Kristiansen
Stephen J. Shennan
Cyprian Broodbank
Published in Journal of Archaeological Research
Volume 27
Issue 2
Pages 131–185
ISSN 1059-0161
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Historical Studies
Pages 131–185
Language en
Keywords Bronze Age, Circulation, Metal, Mining, Provenance, Recycling, Trade
Subject categories History and Archaeology


© 2018 The Author(s) Bronze is the defining metal of the European Bronze Age and has been at the center of archaeological and science-based research for well over a century. Archaeometallurgical studies have largely focused on determining the geological origin of the constituent metals, copper and tin, and their movement from producer to consumer sites. More recently, the effects of recycling, both temporal and spatial, on the composition of the circulating metal stock have received much attention. Also, discussions of the value and perception of bronze, both as individual objects and as hoarded material, continue to be the focus of scholarly debate. Here, we bring together the sometimes-diverging views of several research groups on these topics in an attempt to find common ground and set out the major directions of the debate, for the benefit of future research. The paper discusses how to determine and interpret the geological provenance of new metal entering the system; the circulation of extant metal across time and space, and how this is seen in changing compositional signatures; and some economic aspects of metal production. These include the role of metal-producing communities within larger economic settings, quantifying the amount of metal present at any one time within a society, and aspects of hoarding, a distinctive European phenomenon that is less prevalent in the Middle Eastern and Asian Bronze Age societies.

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