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H 290 x W 205 mm

374 pages

218 figures, 36 tables (colour throughout)

Published Feb 2023

Archaeopress Archaeology


Paperback: 9781803273785

Digital: 9781803273792

DOI 10.32028/9781803273785

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Bronze Age; Prehistoric Mining; Copper; Smelting; Ore Analysis; Lead Isotopes; European Trade; Long-distance Networks; Provenance; Acton Park; Bronze; Metalwork; Archaeometallurgy; Ore Mineralogy; Wales

Boom and Bust in Bronze Age Britain: The Great Orme Copper Mine and European Trade

By R. Alan Williams

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The Great Orme copper mine in North Wales is one of the largest surviving Bronze Age mines in Europe. This book presents new interdisciplinary research to reveal a copper mine of European importance, dominating Britain’s copper supply from c. 1600-1400 BC, with some metal reaching mainland Europe - from Brittany to as far as the Baltic.



Summary ;
About the Author ;
Acknowledgements ;
Chapter 1: Introduction ;
Chapter 2: The Bronze Age research context ;
Chapter 3: Bronze Age mining and smelting ;
Chapter 4: Great Orme mine site and Pentrwyn smelting site ;
Chapter 5: Review of metal characterisation and provenance techniques ;
Chapter 6: Methodology, materials and analytical methods ;
Chapter 7: Results: Defining the Great Orme mine-based metal group ;
Chapter 8: Results: Great Orme ore mineralogy and Pentrwyn slag studies ;
Chapter 9: Discussion and interpretation ;
Chapter 10: Conclusions and future work ;
Bibliography ;
Appendix I: Compilation of published chemical analyses of ores from the British and Irish Bronze Age copper mines ;
Appendix II: Compilation of Cornish copper ore analyses ;
Appendix III: Histograms and correlation coefficients on the chemical analyses of Great Orme copper ores ;
Appendix IV: Chemical analyses of Group I palstaves (extracted from OXSAM database) ;
Appendix V: Compilation of published lead isotope analyses from the British and Irish Bronze Age copper mines not included in Table 7.11 ;

About the Author

Dr R. Alan Williams completed his PhD on the Great Orme Bronze Age copper mine in 2018 in the Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool, where he is an Honorary Research Fellow. He originally graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Mining Geology from the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College London, and after initially working in metal mining and exploration he had a long research career with the international glass company Pilkington (now NSG). He was head of the Raw Materials and Glass Compositions Department at the company’s international research centre and was responsible for sourcing glass-making raw materials in over 20 countries. Since taking early retirement in 2012 he has been applying his expertise in geochemistry, ore geology, mineralogy and pyrotechnology to important archaeological challenges in the field of prehistoric metal mining and smelting. He has written several papers and three books on historic and prehistoric metal mining areas in Britain and Ireland. He also has a long-standing interest in Bronze Age tin since working at Wheal Jane tin mine in Cornwall as a student geologist nearly 50 years ago. He jointly initiated the Leverhulme-funded Bronze Age tin project to determine whether the exceptionally rich tin deposits of Cornwall and Devon powered the major technological and cultural transition from copper to full tin-bronze across Europe and beyond. He is currently a Post-Doctoral Research Associate in the Department of Archaeology at Durham University. He was awarded the Ben Cullen Prize in 2020 by the Antiquity Trust and was elected as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 2022.


'This is a landmark study concerning the origins of mining and metallurgy in Britain. Alan Williams has turned his PhD thesis into a scholarly publication that provides the reader with a compelling narrative based upon thorough fieldwork, a good understanding of geology, and an insightful study of the mineralogy, chemistry, and isotopic composition of the ores available to Bronze Age miners.' – Simon Timberlake (2023): Current Archaeology

To sum up, the book presents a new and solid interpretation of the role of the Great Orme mine and is an inspiring lesson for those of us involved in prehistoric mining and metallurgy research. Based on a doctoral thesis, nothing is taken for granted, everything is explained, and the training and experience of Williams, in addition to the precise study of the Great Orme mine and its regional and European context, allow us to consider this work, with its controversial hypothesis, as a new reference book on prehistoric mining and metallurgy investigation.’ – Mark A. Hunt Ortiz (2023): Antiquity

'I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in ancient mining, metallurgy and the origins of Bronze Age copper in Britain and Europe. It will satisfy the interest of anyone with a good grounding in archaeological science, whilst at the same time remaining accessible to the non-specialist interested in a clearly explained study of an archaeological investigation with far-reaching implications.' – Simon Timberlake (2023): The Prehistoric Society

'A deft combination of archaeological and scientific research, this publication confirms the importance of the Great Orme mine during the Bronze Age and provides a framework for future research. It also, through the use of mine-based metal groups, introduces a methodology which hopefully can be applied at other prehistoric metal mines in Wales and beyond.' – John Pickin (2023): Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol 172