In recent years, archaeological evidence has shown that ancient communities weren’t the isolated groups we once thought them to be. A new study further confirms this, showing that ancient Italians went to great lengths to import and export their goods.
Mining and smelting were vital activities in the Neolithic. Italy, in particular, was home to complex networks of metalwork exchange, according to a new study.
An active Copper Age
Researchers analyzed 20 copper items (including axe-heads, halberds, and daggers) coming from archaeological sites, dating them and studying their isotopic make-up. This make-up is essentially a chemical signature that can be traced to their source.
Comparing the archaeological data with the chemical signatures, researchers found that most of the items were cast with copper mined in Tuscany, a region in central Italy. From Tuscany, these items spread as far as the Alps, indicating a thriving and very active trade system. Other items came from the Western Alps, and possibly the French Midi — an area in southern France.
It’s remarkable that as far as 6,000 years ago, people were trading across such large distances.
“The first systematic application of lead isotope analysis (a geological sourcing technique) to Copper Age metal objects from central Italy, 3600-2200 BC, has shed new light on the provenance of the copper used to cast them,” the study reads.
“The research has revealed that, while some of the copper was sourced from the rich ore deposits of Tuscany, as was expected, some is from further afield. This unforeseen discovery demonstrates that far-reaching metal exchange networks were in operation in prehistoric Europe over a thousand years before the Bronze Age.”
The researchers also found evidence of metal recycling. Basically, Italian smiths were re-casting previously-used metal. Old axe-heads were recast into newer, sharper weapons, as were halberds and knives.
This is a relatively rare practice, showing that iron ore was regarded as a very valuable resource. In addition to being imported from ore-rich Tuscany and other mining areas, these objects were probably traded among different networks and communities.
The study helps fill in a growingly-complex picture of ancient mining and trading across the Alps region. The authors now plan to carry out research on more objects, to uncover more trade routes and copper sources.
This was an important period in the evolution of human society. The first t state societies were emerging in Sumer, Egypt, and Crete, marking one of the biggest milestones of human society. Copper played a key role at the time, predominating in metalworking technology.