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FLow of Ancient Metals across Eurasia (FLAME): New frameworks for interpreting human interaction in Later Prehistory

Project description

Tracing human interaction through Bronze Age metallurgy

Evidenced by the wealth of archaeological artefacts, the use of copper and its alloys had become widespread throughout Eurasia during the Bronze Age. This suggests frequent contact and technology exchange among diverse ancient societies. Unlike preceding research using provenance-based timelines, the European Research Council-funded FLAME project endeavours to create an entirely new timeline of Bronze Age metallurgy that traces human interaction over the lifetime of metal artefacts. The project aims to establish a geographic information system database that maps distribution and location patterns. Meanwhile, patterns in the chemicals and isotopic compositions of the metal artefacts will enable identification of ore sources, even in cases where metal has been re-alloyed, recycled or reused.


FLow of Ancient Metals across Eurasia (FLAME) is a new empirical and conceptual framework for understanding human interactions in Later Prehistory across all of Eurasia. Taking existing data on the chemical and isotopic composition of copper alloy objects and combining them with typological and chronological information within a GIS framework, FLAME aims to rewrite the history of human engagement with copper and its alloys across Eurasia, from Atlantic Iberia to the shores of the Pacific during approximately the 3rd to early 1st millennia BCE. It replaces the outdated concept of provenance with a completely new interpretative paradigm (‘form and flow’), which is built upon the expectation that copper may be recycled, re-alloyed and generally re-used, thus breaking the simple linear assumption of a direct chemical or isotopic link between the copper and the ore from which it came. In this new paradigm, small shifts in chemistry are interpreted not necessarily as changing ore sources but also as the natural consequence of high-temperature processing and mixing, thus putting the emphasis on human interaction with metal rather than on sourcing. We will address major questions at a range of scales, from assemblage to continental, to look at how metal flowed literally and metaphorically through the complex societies of Bronze Age Eurasia. Our reassessment of the metallurgy will also be underpinned by new GIS frameworks and the creation of regional Bayesian-modelled radiocarbon chronologies. Previous scientific assessments of early metal have too often isolated the chemical and isotopic evidence from both the immediate archaeological context and any sense of a real time and place. FLAME brings together a broad range of skills to examine for the first time the intertwined social, scientific, chronological and geographical aspects of Eurasian early metallurgy.



Net EU contribution
€ 2 447 052,00
Wellington square university offices
OX1 2JD Oxford
United Kingdom

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South East (England) Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Oxfordshire
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Beneficiaries (1)