Prehistoric copper from the Eastern Alps

  • Joachim Lutz | Curt-Engelhorn-Zentrum Archäometrie gGmbH, Mannheim, Germany.
  • Ernst Pernicka Universität Tübingen, Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte und Archäologie des Mittelalters, Tübingen, Germany.


The rich copper ore deposits in the Eastern Alps have long been considered as important sources for copper in prehistoric Central Europe. It is, however, not so clear which role each deposit played. To evaluate the amount of prehistoric copper production of the various mining regions it was attempted to link prehistoric metal artefacts with copper ores based on the geochemical characteristics of the ore deposits that have been exploited in ancient times. More than 120 ore samples from the well known mining districts Mitterberg, Viehhofen, Kitzbühel and Schwaz/Brixlegg have been analysed so far (lead isotope ratios, trace elements). Furthermore, about 730 archaeological copper/bronze artifacts were investigated and analysed. These results were combined with analytical data generated by previous archaeometallurgical projects in order to compile a substantial database for comparative studies. In the Early Bronze Age, most metal artifacts were made of copper or bronze with fahlore impurity patterns and most finds from this period match excellently the fahlore deposits in Schwaz and Brixlegg. At the end of the Early Bronze Age, a new variety of copper with lower concentrations of impurities appeared. The impurity patterns of these finds match the ores from the Mitterberg district. In the Middle Bronze Age, this variety of copper Dominated while in the Late Bronze Age fahlores from Schwaz and Brixlegg experienced a comeback. The reason for this may be a decline of the chalcopyrite mines or a rising demand for copper which could not be covered by the chalcopyrite mines alone. The finds of the Early Iron Age are of similar composition and continue the traditions of the Late Bronze Age.



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archaeometallurgy, provenance, Eastern Alps, copper, ore deposits
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How to Cite
Lutz, J., & Pernicka, E. (2013). Prehistoric copper from the Eastern Alps. Open Journal of Archaeometry, 1(1), e25.