Macedonian Metals – origin, distribution and technologies


Milci, Grave 111, pendant
Milci, pyxis

The main aim of this project is to elucidate the technological background of Bronze and Early Iron Age metal finds from Republic of Macedonia by combining the results of archaeological research with analytic l methods. In the first step, the investigation will focus on the bronze objects from different sites characterised by chronological and typological diversity as well as by local and supra-regional distribution patterns. Although the archaeological record clearly points to the existence of innovative bronze metallurgy with a number of specific forms, represents mostly by extraordinary jewellery pieces of so called “Macedonian Bronzes”, the metallurgical background of the copper based artefacts in this region is, due the absence of the any analysis, still largely unknown.

This project will provide first analytic evidence that will help to determine origin of the raw material (copper) and to reconstruct regional and local metallurgical networks in a diachronic perspective. Concerning the possible exchange of artefacts and metals between prehistoric communities, the results of this study will significantly upgrade the existing knowledge and provide valuable arguments regarding the correlation between raw material supply, metallurgical activity and distribution of characteristic objects.  Moreover, the chemical and isotopic signature of the copper based metal finds  allow a comparison of the results from the southern Balkans with existing data sets from the neighbouring regions of Central and Southern Europe. Selected objects will also be a subject of metallographic analysis that will provide new understandings in different regional and local traditions of metal working with regard to different function and purpose of bronze objects.

Lisičin Dol, Grave 338, fibula
Valandovo, pendant
Analytic methods
Tetovo, Mycenaean rapier

The metal samples will be analysed by various methods in order to determine their “geochemical fingerprint”. For this purpose a small sample (max. 40 mg) will be taken from the artefact, the diameter of the drill is 1 mm. The minimal invasion into the object provides certainty that no corrosion layer will be mixed with the metal sample. All objects will be closed immediately after sampling with a special mixture of wax and resin that will completely cover the sampling spot and make it unvisitable.

In a first step the metal samples are analysed by XRF spectrometry. This method is used for measuring major-, minor and trace element concentrations within artefact. In a second step the samples are analysed by MC–ICP–MS to measure lead isotope ratios. Precondition for these analyses is that neither the trace element concentrations nor the lead isotope ratios are changed by remelting, recycling or through the addition of lead to the bronze.  In a third step, specially selected samples will be analysed with NAA in order to determine the concentration of different trace elements (especially Ag, Au) with very high accuracy.

Manastir, Veles, socketed axes
Ongoing actions
Fortuna, Štip, pin

In Mai 2018 team members Aleksandra Papazovska (Archaeological Museum of Macednia), Mario Gavranović (OREA, AAS) and Mathias Mehofer (VIAS, University of Vienna) sampled the first series of metals from museums in Skopje, Veles and Gevgelija. The repertoire of sampled bronzes included typical local and regional forms of Late Bronze Age (e. g. pins of type Fortuna) and objects of presumably foreign origin such as Mycenaean rapier from Tetovo.  Of a special importance are also four socketed axes from the site Manastir, found together in a settlement area as a deposition.

Veles. The largest number of analysed finds belongs to the group of so called “Macedonian bronzes”, found mostly in the female graves dating between 9th and 6th century BC. To highlight are various pendants from graveyard Milici near Gevgelija, set of objects from the abundantly equipped grave in Lisičin Dol (belt disc, bronze pyxis, lunular pendants) as well as finds from Bučinci, Dedeli, Orešani and Mali Dol.

Archaeological Museum of Macedonia, Skopje
Archaeological Museum of Macedonia, Skopje
Graveyard Milci, Gevgelija