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Copper to Tuscany – Coals to Newcastle? The dynamics of metalwork exchange in early Italy

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Andrea Dolfini



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


The paper discusses results of an interdisciplinary research project integrating lead isotope, chemical, and archaeological analysis of 20 early metal objects from central Italy. The aim of the research was to develop robust provenance hypotheses for 4th and 3rd millennia BC metals from an important, yet hitherto neglected, metallurgical district in prehistoric Europe, displaying precocious copper mining and smelting, as well as socially significant uses of metals in ‘Rinaldone-style’ burials. All major (and most minor) ore bodies from Tuscany and neighbouring regions were characterised chemically and isotopically, and 20 Copper Age axe-heads, daggers and halberds were sampled and analysed. The objects were also reassessed archaeologically, paying special attention to find context, typology, and chronology. This multi-pronged approach has allowed us to challenge received wisdom concerning the local character of early metal production and exchange in the region. The research has shown that most objects were likely manufactured in west-central Italy using copper from Southern Tuscany and, quite possibly, the Apuanian Alps. A few objects, however, display isotopic and chemical signatures compatible with the Western Alpine and, in one case, French ore deposits. This shows that the Copper Age communities of west-central Italy participated in superregional exchange networks tying together the middle/upper Tyrrhenian region, the western Alps, and perhaps the French Midi. These networks were largely independent from other metal displacement circuits in operation at the time, which embraced the north-Alpine region and the south-eastern Alps, respectively.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Dolfini A, Angelini I, Artioli G

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: PLoS ONE

Year: 2020

Volume: 15

Issue: 1

Online publication date: 22/01/2020

Acceptance date: 23/11/2019

Date deposited: 27/01/2020

ISSN (electronic): 1932-6203

Publisher: Public Library of Science


DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0227259


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