New insights in Bronze Age metal producing societies in the central and western Balkans

An interdisciplinary study on the social impact of metallurgy and exchange networks


This project aims to investigate Middle to Late Bronze Age societies in the central and western Balkans. Especially the region of Eastern Serbia, as an area with large copper ore deposits, exploited until the modern times, will be in the focus.

Recent discoveries of copper smelting slags (block slags, plate slags) point to a significant increase of metallurgical activities between 1500 and 1000 BC. To explore how and to which extent metallurgical activities influenced inner social structures in terms of settlement organization, burial rites and exchange relationship with the surrounding regions, is one of the central cultural-historical research questions. In order to historically contextualize the developments in Eastern Serbia, the project will also investigate the neighboring region of Central Bosnia with comparable resources (ores) and similar landscape, yet with important differences in social organization, as shown by the settlement pattern (hillforts vs. unfortified sites) as well as diverse burial rites (inhumation vs. cremation).

The project will, for the first time, implement a large series of archaeometric analyses of ores, slags, ingots and metal objects from the region under study. The chemical and isotopical analyses will help to describe the steps of production and the distribution pattern of locally produced copper. This multidisciplinary and cross-border study will create an extensive database in which the remains of prehistoric (but also possible e.g. roman or medieval) metallurgical activities are documented. The results of the analyses will help to reconstruct distribution networks and exchange strategies between Bronze Age groups in Southeast and Central Europe. As an additional step, the results of already conducted field studies – including airborne laser scanning and geophysical prospections – will be used in order to locate new settlements, cemeteries, smelting and mining places. The planned fieldwork will also provide a number of contextualized organic samples for radiocarbon analysis, which will close the research gap caused by the insufficient absolute dates for the Bronze Age in the area. Moreover, the analysis of the zoological and botanical remains will help to understand subsistence strategies, food production and natural environment of the metal producing sites.

By using a wide range of interdisciplinary methods, the project will generate new datasets that will substantially help to elucidate the role of the region under study in the local and supra-regional metal exchange networks between Central Europe (Urnfield culture) and the Mediterranean. The project with its multidisciplinary approach represents a ground-breaking study of Middle to Late Bronze Age communities in Southeast Europe and will contribute to a further understanding of trajectories of human-environmental interactions.