Fields of research


Nordtiroler Unterland | Mitterberg | Oberhalbstein | Archaeometallurgy

Archaeometallurgical part

Prehistoric copper and bronze artefacts reflecting the use of Alpine copper ores through time in North Tyrol and adjacent areas (RC HiMAT)
(by Caroline Grutsch)


The D-A-CH-project[1] "Prehistoric copper production in the Eastern and Central Alps - technical, social and economic dynamics in space and time" of the Research Centre (RC) HiMAT[2], financed by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) provides the frame for the presented intended thesis. It is a joint project of the Universities of Innsbruck, Bochum and Zürich, the Deutsches Bergbaumuseum Bochum, the Curt-Engelhorn-Centre (CEZ) Archaeometry Mannheim and the Archäologischer Dienst Graubünden, from which four doctoral and several master’s as well as bachelor theses will evolve.


First evaluations of analytical data from East Alpine prehistoric artefacts have shown that a use of different types of copper varying in time and space and produced in different copper districts, can be expected (Möslein 2008). These studies mainly emphasise a change from fahlore copper use in the Early Bronze Age to the major use of chalcopyrite copper in the Middle Bronze Age, with a shift in Hallstatt A2 period, when both materials were used (Lutz / Pernicka 2013, Lutz 2016). For these developments not only technical progress but also market-orientated and other influences must be taken into consideration.

Such investigations were hitherto primarily carried out by geochemists and shall now be complemented by an archaeological approach and a more detailed perception. Therefore a core area was chosen from which well datable objects will be examined. The intended thesis will determine the succession of copper types more exactly and produce a basis to understand the consumption of different copper types in different areas in the course of time. Thus, a model for the Eastern Alps will be created enabling further research in this field.



There are hundreds of geochemical and isotopic analyses of ores and artefacts produced since the 1950’s (Otto / Witter 1952; Junghans et al. 1960, 1968; Ottaway 1982; Rychner / Kläntschi 1995; Krause 2003; Kienlin 2008). But until now there is no consolidating research for in particular North Tyrol and the adjacent areas[3] bringing together the archaeological data with the geochemical data.

Therefore this study investigates the

  • chronological development of raw material use and bronze composition in Vorarlberg, North and South Tyrol, Salzburg and Upper Austria from the Early Bronze Age to the Hallstatt period,
  • spatial changes of copper supply in these regions from the Early Bronze Age to the Hallstatt period and
  • possible differences in metal composition between find groups (weapons – tools – jewellery, settlements – graves – hoards)

by combining the archaeological with the geochemical data.


  1. Selection of a useful number and mass of well datable artefacts covering the whole area and time frame of interest
  2. Typological determination and dating of the artefacts
  3. Photo and/or drawing documentation
  4. Weighing of artefacts
  5. Compiling a catalogue
  6. Artefact sampling with a 1,5 mm drill (30 to 40 mg metal chips), sealing of the drill hole with restoration wax
  7. Photo and written documentation of the sampling

Zeichnung Beil


Fig. 1:
Flanged Axe (type Neerach), Bronze Age B, vorarlberg museum. One of the pieces, which was documented, sampled and analysed.
Fig. 2: Sampling with a 1,5 mm drill - 30 to 40 mg fresh metal flakes are gained.


  1. Analytics: X-ray Fluorescence Analyses (XRF), Lead Isotope Analyses, Neutron Activation Analyses (NAA), Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS)
  2. Discrimination of fahlore and chalcopyrite copper on the basis of trace element contents (especially silver and antimony)
  3. Correlation of copper metal types with potential deposits on the basis of trace element contents and lead isotope data
Archaeology and Archaeometry
  1. Evaluation of the chronological development of raw material use (fahlore, chalcopyrite) through time, based on correlation of archaeological dating with determined copper metal type for each artefact
  2. Evaluation of the spatial changes in copper supply through time, based on correlation of artefact chorography correlated with determined copper metal type and archaeological dating for each artefact
  3. Discussion of potential raw material provenience for each artefact based on trace element and lead isotope data
  4. Evaluation of metal composition differences between find groups, based on purpose (weapon – tool – jewellery) and find context (settlement – grave – hoard) respectively, correlated with the determined copper metal type

For these evaluations four sources of ore and artefact analyses will be used, all produced at the Curt-Engelhorn-Centre Archaeometry Mannheim for maximal comparability:

  • the very recent analyses conducted within the Special Research Area (SFB) HiMAT
  • complementary analyses sampled and measured within the present D-A-CH-project of the RC HiMAT
  • selected data from the SSN-project[4] and
  • remeasurements of selected older samples from the SAM-project[5] (Junghans et al. 1960, 1968).

Copper type discrimination and especially allocation of potential raw material provenience will be discussed in very close cooperation with the project partner in Mannheim.



Fig. 3: X-ray fluorescence analysis are operated at the Curt-Engelhorn-Centre Archaeometry in Mannheim.
Fig. 4: The main goal is to investigate the raw material use (fahlore copper, chalcopyrite copper) from the Early Bronze Age to the Hallstatt Period in Western Austria.


[1] D - Germany, A – Austria, CH – Switzerland.

[2] History of Mining Activities in the Tyrol and Adjacent Areas - Impact on Environment & Human Societies

[3] This includes Vorarlberg, South Tyrol, Salzburg and Upper Austria.

[4] Research of the Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege on the Middle and Late Bronze Age copper supply in Southern Bavaria, Salzburg and North Tyrol.

[5] Studien zu den Anfängen der Metallurgie.


Junghans, E. Sangmeister, M. Schröder (1960), Metallanalysen kupferzeitlicher und frühbronzezeitlicher Bodenfunde aus Europa. Studien zu den Anfängen der Metallurgie, Band I, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum. Berlin.

Junghans, E. Sangmeister, M. Schröder (1968), Kupfer und Bronze in der frühen Metallzeit Europas. Die Materialgruppen beim Stand von 12000 Analysen. Studien zu den Anfängen der Metallurgie, Band 2 (Teil 1 und 2), Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum. Berlin.

Kienlin (2008), Frühes Metall im nordalpinen Raum. Eine Untersuchung zu technologischen und kognitiven Aspekten früher Metallurgie anhand der Gefüge frühbronzezeitlicher Beile, Teil 1 und 2. Universitätsforschungen zur prähistorischen Archäologie, Band 162. Bonn.

Krause (2003), Studien zur kupfer- und frühbronzezeitlichen Metallurgie zwischen Karpatenbecken und Ostsee. Vorgeschichtliche Forschungen, Band 24. Rahden/Westfalen.

Lutz (2016), Alpenkupfer – die Ostalpen als Rohstoffquelle in vorgeschichtlicher Zeit. In: M. Bartelheim, B. Horejs, R. Krauss (Hrsg.), Von Baden bis Troia. Ressourcennutzung, Metallurgie und Wissenstransfer. Eine Jubiläumsschrift für Ernst Pernicka. Oriental and European Archaeology, Volume 3. Rahden/Westfalen, 333– 358. 

Lutz, E. Pernicka (2013), Prehistoric copper from the Eastern Alps. Open Journal of Archaeometry 2013, Volume 1:e25, 122-127.

Möslein (2008), Frühbronzezeitliche Depotfunde im Alpenvorland – Neue Befunde. Vorträge des 26. Niederbayerischen Archäologentages. Rahden/Westfalen, 109-130.

S. Ottaway (1982), Earliest Copper Artifacts oft he Northalpine Region : Their Analysis and Evaluation. Schriften des Seminars für Urgeschichte der Universität Bern, Heft 7. Bern.

Otto, W. Witter (1952), Handbuch der ältesten vorgeschichtlichen Metallurgie in Mitteleuropa. Leipzig.

Rychner, N. Kläntschi (1995), Arsenic, nickel et anitmoine. Une approche de la métallurgie du Bronze moyen et final en Suisse par l’analyse spectrométrique. Cahiers d’archéologie romande, N° 63, Tome I et II. Lausanne. 

Poster Oberland Alpenkupfer
Mining archaeological and mineralogical surveys in western Tyrol
Poster Stollen Vals, CH
Ein erster Beleg für prähistorischen Bergbau im Oberhalbstein/GR (CH)?
Poster Bronzebeile aus Vorarlberg
Bronzebeile aus Vorarlberg
Nach oben scrollen