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3,600-year-old Swedish axes made from Cypriot copper

Bronze tools found in Sweden dating from 3,600 years ago were made using copper from the Mediterranean, archaeologists have shown. They now also believe that rock carvings of ships found in Bohuslän, Sweden were visual documentation of trade between ancient Scandinavia and the Mediterranean.

3,600-year-old Swedish axes made from Cypriot copper
Two massive shaft-hole axes made with Cypriot ores - a shaft-hole axe of Valsømagle type, dated to 1600-1500 BC 
and a shaft-hole axe of Fårdup type, dated to 1600-1500 BC [Credit: L Granding]
Most of the copper circulating in Bronze Age Europe apparently originated from Sicily, Sardinia, the Iberian peninsula – and Cyprus, going by isotope analysis. (Although there seems to have been some exploitation of the copper mines in Timna, ancient Israel during the Bronze Age, it was small in scope and not involved in this trade.)

The ancient Cypriot copper industry produced relatively pure stuff, which was smelted into “oxhide ingots”. Oxhide ingots were not made of cow pelts. They were Bronze Age copper slabs that looked like nothing so much as stretched hides, with four extruding corners that were used to carry them. Corners to carry them would have been a great convenience because they were horribly heavy – about 37 kilos each.

3,600-year-old Swedish axes made from Cypriot copper
Lead isotope ratios of five bronzes from Sweden compared with the copper ores from Cyprus 
and Bronze Age Cypriot copper based artefacts [Credit: Ling et al. 2014]
Vast quantities of ingots have been found in Cyprus, Sardinia, mainland Greece and Crete. The biggest collection was found in the “Uluburun shipwreck,” that sank in the late 14th century BCE off Turkey. Underwater excavation shows that the ship carried 10 tons of ingots, all of which seem to have originated in Cyprus.

The copper trade around the Mediterranean Sea is evident from around 1550 BCE – but going by the bronze finds dating to about that same time in Scandinavia, it apparently began earlier. In any case, Gothenburg University researcher Dr. Johan Ling thinks however that Cypriot copper was not massively and purposefully imported to northern Europe, but trickled along the Bronze Age trade routes.

3,600-year-old Swedish axes made from Cypriot copper
'Oxhide' copper ingot from Crete [Credit: WikiCommons]
Isotope analysis of some 70 bronze daggers and axes from Bronze Age Sweden by scientists from Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, headed by Dr. Johan Ling, proved that at least some originated in Cypriot copper mines. Most probably, it was traded for amber.

“Bronze was as valuable a raw material as oil is today,” says Prof. Kristian Kristiansen of the University of Gothenburg´s archaeological department. It and amber were the twin engines of the Bronze Age economy, to the extent that marriage alliances are believed to have been forged between powerful families in ancient Europe in order to secure the amber trade.

3,600-year-old Swedish axes made from Cypriot copper
Mediterranean-style rock art depictions of bulls and ships, dating to 1600-1400 BCE, 
from western Sweden [Credit: SHFA: ​Gerhard Milstreu]
Amber was used not only to pay for copper, which was turned into bronze weapons, but also for fripperies, such as glass beads imported from the Levant. A separate study recently found that 290 glass beads found in Danish Bronze Age graves dated to around 1400 BCE and not only originated in ancient Egypt – but were made by King Tut’s own glassmaker.

And now the archaeologists think they have recognized images of the ships that brought the copper north.

3,600-year-old Swedish axes made from Cypriot copper
Depiction of a ship and, possibly, an oxhide ingot, found at Norkopping, Sweden, 
dating from 1400 to 1300 BC [Credit: Catarina Bertilsson]
Thousands of elaborate rock carvings dating to the Bronze Age have been found in Scandinavia, mostly in the region of Bohuslän, on the Swedish west coast. A recurring motif on the rock carvings is ships – and intriguingly, most of these ship carving sites also have images that resemble Mediterranean oxhide ingots.

Source: In-Cyprus [May 13, 2016]

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