Copper production

Copper production deals with lead isotope to trace the origin of copper production, and to reveal the extent of trade.

Tracing the copper sources

The research group deals with lead isotopes to trace the origin of metals, and to reveal the extent of trade. The aim is to understand 2nd millennium metalwork in its Scandinavian context by:

  • Identifying exchange patterns and technological transfers across Europe
  • Testing the hypothesis of Nordic copper production

Technological and stylistic similarities suggest that metalworking styles were shared across the Nordic region despite an otherwise huge regional variation. The project’s twofold perspective will invigorate the discussion about Bronze Age core–periphery relations and the dynamics between different regions. Metals are highly malleable and the extent of recycling not yet fully mapped. Yet, in combination with archaeological insights into the social aspects of trade, gift-giving and technology, the tracing of sources provides a key to understand metal production and exchange.

There are more than 1600 trace element analyses of Scandinavian metalwork. Yet, attempts at tracing the origin of metals remain inconclusive and currently rest, in the final analyses, on distribution patterns and hypothetical matches with Bronze Age mines. Lead isotopy, which may help pinpointing the sources, has until recently only been conducted on a few objects. Ling et al. [link to Extraction of copper] have been able to demonstrate that metals reached Scandinavia from a much wider range of sources than hitherto imagined. Together the two projects will provide the first indications of the origins of copper in the Scandinavian Bronze Age.

The 130 lead isotope analyses which are to be conducted within the scope of the Rise will add significantly to the amount of data available for the Nordic region. In order to avoid extensive new sampling, an effort has been made to reuse old samples. Altogether 20 Early Bronze Age objects from the Bronze Age centers in northern Jutland are now being analysed along with 30 samples from Norway.  In addition, supplementary analyses of ore bodies from the Scandinavian Peninsula and surface registrations, aimed at detecting and dating ancient workings, will be conducted.


Curator Lars Brock Andersen samples an Early Bronze Age sword at the Thy museum.

Collaborating partners: Johan Ling: University of Gothenburg, Lena Grandin/Eva Hjärthner-Holdar: Geoarchaeological Laboratory, Swedish National Heritage Board, Kjell Billström /Per-Olof Persson: Laboratory for Isotope Geology, Swedish Museum of Natural History, Siri Lene Simonsen/Tom Andersen: Department of Geosciences: University of Oslo, Peter Northover: Oxford Materials Characterisation Services, University of Oxford.