Copper was known and used in different parts of Eurasia several millennia before the beginning of the Bronze Age. The earliest evidence derives from the Near East and Anatolia, where copper was first used between the 11th and 7th millennia BC, whereas copper use in Europe, specifically in the Balkans and the South-East, began by the mid-6th millennium BC (Roberts et al. 2009, 1013). Copper use spread from south-eastern Europe to the steppes of southern Russia (Chernykh 1992, 41 f.) and was introduced farther to the forested regions of East European (or Russian) Plain along the rivers Volga and Kama in the 4th millennium BC (Krajnov 1987, 14 f.; Nagovitsyn 1987, 32). The use of copper was introduced in central, western and northern Europe through different processes at different times (Roberts et al. 2009, 1015 f.); copper smelting was known in the eastern Alps in the 5th millennium BC (Hoppner et al. 2005), at a time when large-scale metal production in the Balkans had begun (Bailey 2000, 209), whereas signs of metal use are few in north-western Europe before 2500 BC (Roberts 2009, 467).
In north-eastern Europe the use of native copper began soon after 4000 BC in what is today the Republic of Karelia (Russian Federation), when copper artefacts appear in find assemblages. While a number of early copper finds are also known from central and northern parts of Finland, they are very rare on the Scandinavian Peninsula and in the Baltic countries. The early appearance of copper in eastern Fennoscandia is common knowledge among Russian and Finnish archaeologists, but the general picture of this early copper use is patchy and its wider context elusive, which has to do with the limited research material, different academic traditions as well as linguistic and national boundaries. As the relevant publications are mainly in Russian and Finnish, the early copper finds from northeastern Europe have often been omitted from the surveys and studies on the beginning of metal use in Europe. Even the early metal finds have been subject to some research and scientific analyses in Russia and Finland, very little has been said about why copper was adopted and how early copper use relates to broader cultural developments.
This paper provides an overview and discussion of the early copper finds and metal use in north-eastern Europe. More specifically, the geographical research area stretches from the shores of Lake Onega in the east to the Baltic Sea in the west and from the Baltic countries in the south to the Arctic Ocean in the north (Fig. 1). Early metal use in this region is put in a broader context, with a special reference to the northern European Russia. The period of interest here is 4000-2000 BC (all dates are given in calibrated radiocarbon years, i.e. calBC). A large part of this time frame is commonly referred to as the Eneolithic in Russia but is called the (Sub-)Neolithic in Finland (Fig. 2). In this paper the term Neolithic is preferred, although we acknowledge that it contradicts especially the Russian periodisation. Without going deeper into the reasoning behind the definitions it suffices to say that recent research (e.g. Vaneeckhout 2009; Mokkonen 2011; Herva et al. n.d.) has increasingly indicated that the cultures in the research area between 4000-2000 BC can be described as Neolithic in a more real sense that has been traditionally thought. It is against this 'Neolithic proper' background the early copper use in the north must be considered.
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Cultural context and dating of early copper use in Karelia and Finland
Before turning to a closer examination of the copper finds, it is necessary to provide a general outline of the cultural phases and development in the research area in 4000-2000 BC. Ceramic chronology is of special interest here, although the absolute dating of pottery types is far from complete. Nevertheless, the relative chronology based on pottery provides the only available framework for dating copper finds from particular sites--a detailed discussion on this topic will be provided in another article (Nordqvist et al. …