Rethinking the Quest for Provenance

By Budd, P.; Haggerty, R. et al. | Antiquity, March 1996 | Go to article overview

Rethinking the Quest for Provenance


Budd, P., Haggerty, R., Pollard, A. M., Scaife, B., Thomas, R. G., Antiquity


One of the larger - and more expensive - present programmes of study in archaeological science explores the provenance of prehistoric bronzes from the Mediterranean. What are the bases of research? What will the findings tell us about the real place of metal as it moved in the ancient world?

The provenance postulate

The availability of spectrographic methods in the 1930s made it possible to analyse large numbers of ancient metal artefacts with a view determining their provenance. Some of these studies (e.g. Pittioni 1957) followed from a 19th-century tradition, pioneered by the Austrian scholar Wocel (see Caley 1951; 1967), in which it was proposed that the impurities in ancient copper artefacts would directly reflect those in the ores from which they were smelted. Some scientifically informed commentators (Thompson 1958) expressed concern as to whether this naive insistence was justified, but the work continued in the absence of any detailed understanding either of the geology of metal ores or of the chemistry of their smelting. Although most researchers have come to recognize the complexity and limitations of compositional data (see for example Pernicka 1995), Pittioni-style provenance studies continued for decades. Despite Thompson's warning, tens of thousands of prehistoric metal artefacts were subsequently analysed. The Studien zu den Anfangen der Metallurgie (SAM) analytical programme (Junghans et al. 1960; 1968; 1974) and the huge analytical programme in the former Soviet Union (Chernykh 1994) stand as the two largest monuments to this endeavour. Interpretation of the data in these compilations has generally used statistical procedures to extract groups of artefacts having similar composition. On the broadest level, such groupings are undoubtedly significant. In much of Eurasia, the use of unalloyed copper pre-dates the use of arsenic-rich material, and this is later succeeded by tin-bronze. On a more detailed level attempts to link compositionally similar artefacts to common geographical sources have almost always proved inconclusive. Artefacts grouped on the basis of composition have often come from unrelated contexts, sometimes widely scattered across vast areas, as Butler & Van der Waals (1964) noticed in commenting on the SAM programme.

When the assumptions which underpin these approaches are examined, it is easy to see the pitfalls. For trace element provenancing to succeed it is necessary to assume that the artefacts under consideration were fabricated using similar manufacturing processes, derived from a strictly limited number of sources and smelted in such a way as to produce a metallic product with a limited range of impurities. Furthermore, one is obliged to make further fundamental assumptions about alloying and recycling. Whereas some copper deposits may contain distinctive traces of particular trace or minor elements, very few have been studied mineralogically to the point where quantitative estimates of different mineral species' contributions to ore 'as-mined in prehistory' can be made. Similarly, there is little detailed understanding of the behaviour of impurities in primitive smelting processes. Simple thermodynamic models are problematic and many experimental studies have been little more than imaginative reconstructions of hypothetical processes, sometimes using inappropriate materials and poor control and monitoring.

Under these circumstances modern researchers are rightly circumspect in their use of impurity data for provenance studies, although useful studies have been undertaken for small regions; attempting for example to outline compositional variation within artefacts already grouped archaeologically by virtue of typology or context (e.g. Begemann et al. 1995). It is now clear that different deposits may share closely similar geochemical characteristics so that particular copper deposits simply will not yield metal of unique minor or trace element composition.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Rethinking the Quest for Provenance
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.