'Where did all the copper go? Characterising Bronze Age copper from the Great Orme mine in North Wales' with R. Alan Williams

5:00pm - 6:30pm / Wednesday 14th February 2018
Type: Seminar / Category: Department
  • Admission: Free. No booking necessary. Enter the building before 5pm to ensure access.
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Wednesday 14 Feb, 5pm (enter building before 5 to secure access)
Walbank Seminar Room


The Bronze Age copper mine on the Great Orme headland on the coast of North Wales is one of the largest surviving Bronze Age copper mines in Europe. However, influential claims made two decades ago that the mine's ores could only produce low impurity copper metal (uncommon in the British Bronze Age) and that the mine was only large because it was worked on a small scale for nearly a millennium, have marginalised the importance of the mine as a metal source.

The enigma of Great Orme copper has been tackled with a research programme that involved sampling and analysing ores from throughout the 5km of Bronze Age mine workings, smelting experiments with pre-analysed ores, analysis of bronze tool fragments from the mine and also copper prills from the nearby smelting site.

A new methodology of mine-based metal groups rather than artefact-based metal groups has been developed by combining the chemical composition and lead isotope fields of the mine’s ores. The research has revealed that the Great Orme mine actually produced copper with arsenic and nickel impurities and was a metal type that dominated the British Bronze Age metal supply between c.1600/1500-1400 BC. This indicates the mine had a zenith of production at that time and was followed by many centuries of very low production.

Distribution maps based on correlation with certain types of Acton Park metalwork have suggested wide ranging exchange/trade networks within Britain and some metal reaching the near Continent stretching from Brittany to Sweden. The important implications for the social organisation of the mine are examined.