Bronze Age Tin Project awarded Leverhulme funding

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Research grant funding has been awarded to Durham University with support from the University of Liverpool by the Leverhulme Trust for the three-year project ‘Did British tin sources and trade make Bronze Age Europe?’

The replacement of copper by bronze (10% tin, 90% copper) was a defining feature of the European Bronze Age requiring long distance trade networks due to the scarcity of copper and especially tin. What role did British tin play in the European Bronze Age? This critically important question remains unanswered despite nearly two centuries of speculation and research. Did the exceptionally rich tin deposits in Cornwall and Devon power the massive technological and cultural transition to full tin bronze, and thus create the continental Bronze Age? If so, this would transform our understanding of Britain’s social and economic relationships with larger and more complex European societies from Scandinavia to the Eastern Mediterranean.

An interdisciplinary team will use three independent analytical methods (trace elements, lead isotopes & tin isotopes) to characterize or ‘fingerprint’ tin ores to be collected by extensive fieldwork across South West England and tin metal artefacts to be sampled in local and national museums. Comparative analyses will also be performed on tin ore samples obtained from collaborators in

Brittany, Iberia and Germany. The new data, combined with extensive existing data from across Europe and the Mediterranean, will, for the first time, allow tin consistent with British sources to be identified.

The project will be known by its short title Project Ancient Tin and will be led by Dr Ben Roberts supported by Dr Kamal Badreshany, both of the Archaeology Department of Durham University. It will be supported by Dr Matthew Ponting of the Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool. The postdoctoral research associate will be Alan Williams who obtained his PhD from the University of Liverpool in 2018 on ‘fingerprinting’ and tracing the distribution of the copper from the Great Orme Bronze Age copper mine in North Wales.

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The Leverhulme Trust is one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK, currently distributing £100 million each year. For more information about the Trust, please visit The Leverhulme Trust website.

Study in the Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool.