Social Approaches to an Industrial Past: The Archaeology and Anthropology of Mining

By A. Bernard Knapp; Vincent C. Pigott et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 12

Producing copper in the eastern Alps during the second millennium BC

Stephen Shennan

ABSTRACT

Despite a long history of debate over the role of metal production and exchange in defining the character of European Bronze Age societies, until recently remarkably little work had been done on the social organization of copper production. This is somewhat curious inasmuch as the copper mines of the period have been known in some parts of Europe for a hundred years and a great deal of work has been done on mining and production techniques. This chapter describes the results of a recent fieldwork project in one of the main Bronze Age copper production centres, the Mitterberg region of the eastern Alps, designed to provide information on this subject. The excavated site, St Veit-Klinglberg, was a base settlement for a small community which mined and smelted copper in the vicinity and then exchanged it downstream to agricultural communities in the hills and plains outside the mountains. Finds indicating links between these areas and the copper producers include amber, flint, tin-bronze and imported pottery. The site, like its contemporaries in the region, was fortified and in a defensible position, which may indicate the threat of raiding. It is suggested that these communities were autonomous and that production and exchange were not monopolized by any single group. The copper entered patterns of circulation where it functioned as a proto-currency. Eventually the small autonomous settlements were abandoned and the copper production region may have come under centralized control.


INTRODUCTION

Discussions of the organization of Bronze Age metallurgy have played an important role in studies of European prehistory for much of the twentieth century. From the 1920s onwards the Bronze Age was seen by Gordon Childe as the period in history when the contrast between the ‘dynamism’ of Europe and the ‘stagnation’ of the East, which had long been a staple of Enlightenment social philosophy, first began to develop.

Subsequently, the focus of European Bronze Age studies has moved away from ‘the irradiation of European barbarism by [decadent] oriental civilisation’

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