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Extraction of copper in Sweden during the Bronze Age? Possibility, myth or reality?

Picture above: Herzsprung shield from Fröslunda, analysed within this project.

This project is financed by the Swedish Research Council (2009-1419)

  • A contribution to the ongoing debate on local Cu-mining in Bronze Age Scandinavia.
  • The copper import paradigm still stands within indigenous Swedish bronze casting.
  • Trace element and lead isotope analyses have, so far, concluded that copper was an import.
  • Observed variations in metal supply are related to Bronze Age chronology.
  • Scandinavia as a part of the maritime exchange systems during the Bronze Age.

A classic issue has been whether copper was imported to Scandinavia or mined locally during the Bronze Age. Some scholars favour the import theory while others prefer the idea of local extraction.

The aim of this study is to further this discussion. For this purpose, we have carried out lead isotope and chemical analyses of, to date, 33 bronze items dated between 1600BC and 700BC. Among these are the famous Fröslunda shields, the large scrap hoard from Bräckan and other items from three regions in southern Sweden which are also renowned for their richness in copper ores.

The analytical results show that it is obvious from a comparison that the element and lead isotope compositions of the studied bronze items diverge greatly from those of spatially associated copper ores. Nor is there any good resemblance with other ores from Scandinavia, it is therefore concluded that the copper used for the bronze items must have been imported from elsewhere. The results furthermore indicate that there are variations in metal supply that are related to chronology, in agreement with other artefacts from Scandinavia as well as from other parts of Europe. These circumstances opens up a discussion regarding Scandinavia's role in maritime exchange systems during the Bronze Age.

Work in progress:

In the next phase of the project we are about to analyse 30 additional objects comprising material from the eastern part of Sweden, including Mälardalen and other sites in adjacent ore bearing districts. Coupled to this, a literature survey of published lead isotope data for ore districts in Europe and other regions known to have had trade links with Sweden during the Bronze Age period will be conducted.

Project members

Johan Linga, Eva Hjärthner-Holdarb, Lena Grandinb*, Kjell Billströmc and Per-Olof Perssonc

aDepartment of Historical Studies:Archaeology, University of Gothenburg, Box 200, SE-405 30 Göteborg, Sweden, johan.ling@archaeology.gu.se

bGeoarchaeological Laboratory (GAL), Swedish National Heritage Board, Portalg. 2A, SE-754 23 Uppsala, Sweden, ehh@raa.se, lena.grandin@raa.se

cSwedish Museum of Natural History, LIG, Box 50007, SE-104 05 Stockholm, Sweden, kjell.billstrom@nrm.se, Per-Olof.Persson@nrm.se

Presented results

Preliminary results from the project have frequently been presented at seminars and conferences. These include specialized international archaeometallurgic conferences as well as seminars for archaeology researchers at universities.

  • Aarhus University, Denmark. April 2010. Research seminar at the Department of Culture and Society - Section for Prehistoric Archaeology
  • University of Gothenburg, Sweden, May 2010 Research seminar at the Department of Historical Studies
  • Berlin, Germany, January 2011. Eurasia-Department of the German Archaeological Institute Meeting with the reference group of the project, presenting the very first results on lead isotope as well as geochemical analyses.
  • Stockholm, May 2011. International meeting: Mining - Metallurgy – Metalwork, at Jernkontoret.
  • Linnaeus University Kalmar, April 2011. Session organisers at The 11th Nordic TAG , with the session:Interdisciplinary encounters and thought styles within archaeo-metallugical research.
  • Bochum, Germany, June 2011. International conference: Archaeometallurgy in Europe III, University of Gothenburg, October 2011, workshop and seminar with Prof. Sofia Stos-Gale at the Department of Historical Studies
  • Lund University, October 2011, Research seminar at the Department of Archaeology and ancient history.
  • Stockholm University, February 2012, Research seminar at the Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies.
  • University of Gothenburg, March 2012, Västsvensk arkeologi Dag


International cooperation and reference group

This project involves several international scholars, projects and works dealing with the same topic. For instance the project Forging Identities: the Mobility of Culture in Bronze Age Europe. A Marie Curie training networks project. (www.forging-identities.com). Regarding recent lead isotopes analyses in Northern Europe, the project has already established contact with Prof. Zofia Stos-Gale in UK and Prof. William O'Brien, at University College Cork, Ireland. The project will also cooperate with the Institute of Anthropology, Archaeology and Linguistics, Department of Prehistoric Archaeology, University of Aarhus, Denmark, the Eurasia-department of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) & the Free University Berlin, Germany, Deutsches Bergbau-Museum, Bochum & Institute of Archaeological Science, Bochum Uni-versity, Germany, Statens Historiska Museum, Värmlands museum, Arvika Museum samt Göteborgs Stadsmuseum. Through the Comité pour la Sidérurgie Ancienne de l´UISPP, of which Eva Hjärthner-Holdar is a member, GAL has numerous contacts in the circle of archaeometallurgists throughout the world.

The following scholars will be included in the project’s reference group.
Prof. Helle Vandkilde, University of Aarhus. Prof. William O'Brien, University College, Cork, Irland. Prof Kristian Kristiansen, University of Gothenburg, Prof. Christopher Prescott, University of Oslo. Ph.D sLene Melheim, University of Oslo. Ph.D Peter Northover, Oxford University. Ph.D Ulf Bergström, SGU Gothenburg. Ph.D Per Andersson, environmental geo-chemist, senior research fellow, Laboratory for Isotope Geology at the Swedish Museum of Natural History.


Johan Ling: Johan.Ling@gu.se
Eva- Hjärtner Holdar: EHH@raa.se

Contact Information

Johan Ling

Box 200, 405 30 GÖTEBORG,

031-786 29 74

Page Manager: Sara Ellis Nilsson|Last update: 1/14/2013

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