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The Flow of Ancient Metals across Eurasia

The FLAME (Flow of Ancient Metal across Eurasia) sets out to investigate the movement, exchange, and transformation of metal in Eurasian societies during the Bronze and Early Iron Age.Using a new interpretive framework for the study of trace element chemistry and lead isotope data obtained archaeological copper and bronze, it sets out to explore the complex human relationship with metals and metal artefacts in the past.

copper-castingUnlike existing approaches to the study of copper and its alloys in the past, FLAME does not begin with the assumption that all metal artefacts followed a similar trajectory from ore to object. Instead, it acknowledges the almost unique material characteristics of copper and bronze, which allow it to flow, quite literally, between forms as it is recast or recycled through the liquid state. We argue that in this process of molten recycling not only the form, but also the chemistry of this metal may be changed. Certain elements—such as Arsenic, Antimony, and Tin—may be preferentially lost by oxidation or volatilization, others (e.g. Iron) may be removed as a result of physical practice. New elements may also be added as a result of alloying and re-alloying or the mixing and remixing of metal. Some of these changes may be relatively subtle, but when metal from different sources is combined together the chemical/isotopic fingerprint of the material may be entirely transformed.

Drawing on existing legacy data, FLAME uses these changes, both predictable and unexpected, to explore repetitive practices of recycling and re-use in the hope of reconstructing the dynamic flows of ancient metal across Eurasia, of which artefacts are merely static substantiations.

FLAME (Flow of Ancient Metals across Eurasia) is a European Research Council funded project led by Professor Mark Pollard of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art (RLAHA) at the University of Oxford.

flame@arch.ox.ac.uk