Jan. 23 (UPI) -- During the 4th and 3rd millennia BC, the Late Neolithic, Italy was home to complex metalwork exchange networks, according to new isotopic analysis of Copper Age artifacts.
Recent studies have revealed Neolithic populations in Italy were using surprisingly complex technologies to extract copper much earlier than previously thought. Until now, little was known about the movement of copper across the region.
For the newest study, published this week in the journal PLOS One, scientists wanted to determine how copper was traded across ancient Italy and whether or not copper from more distant locals was imported.
Researchers analyzed 20 copper artifacts, including axe-heads, halberds and daggers, collected from important prehistoric sites in central Italy dated to between 3600 and 2200 BC. By measuring the chemical signatures in each artifact, as well as analyzing the archaeological context, scientists were able to trace their origins.
Most of the artifacts were made using copper extracted from mines in the Tuscany region. However, some of the artifacts were cast using copper mined from Tyrol, a historical region in the Alps, and also possibly from French Midi, a historical area in southern France.
"The first systematic application of lead isotope analysis -- a geological sourcing technique -- to Copper Age metal objects from central Italy, 3600 to 2200 BC, has shed new light on the provenance of the copper used to cast them," Andrea Dolfini, senior lecturer in later prehistory at Newcastle University in Britain, said in a news release.
The study both confirmed the importance of Tuscan mining to early copper trading, and also revealed the presence of complex metalwork exchanges that allowed Late Neolithic populations in the region to access non-Tuscan ores.
"The research has revealed that, while some of the copper was sourced from the rich ore deposits of Tuscany, as was expected, some is from further afield," Dolfini said. "This unforeseen discovery demonstrates that far-reaching metal exchange networks were in operation in prehistoric Europe over a thousand years before the Bronze Age."