Tracing Networks

Craft Traditions in the Ancient Mediterranean and Beyond

Salt of the earth: the exotic and the everyday in bronze age Europe

Anthony Harding, Marion Uckelmann

This project investigates the links between the Aegean world and 'barbarian' economies in the north and west. Focusing on commodities like salt, amber and bronze, 'Salt of the Earth' researches how raw materials and finished products were traded over wide distances and what economic and social mechanisms enabled this movement of goods, and the transfer of technology from one area to another. New finds such as the amber from Bernstorf, Bavaria, and the exotic knowledge indicated by the Nebra sky-disc have both been taken to indicate that travellers from the developed Mediterranean world met with and impacted upon worlds to their north. These matters need to be set in proper context, by considering the way that exotic materials like amber were worked and transported, but also how everyday substances such as salt were treated. .

The examination of salt production and distribution in central, eastern and south-eastern Europe between ca 1600 and 800 BCE, now that recent work has demonstrated the existence of hitherto unknown technologies for its production, is crucial for our understanding of Bronze Age economic networks. Over the lifetime of the Tracing Networks project, fieldwork at salt production sites in Romania has been completed and published (Harding and Kavruk 2013, including a chapter by Uckelmann), as well as a monograph on salt in European prehistory (Harding 2013).

The technologies for making prestige bronze objects and the spread of bronze sheet-working across Europe are other case studies where one can analyse how production varied across different cultural spheres. In the latter case, Uckelmann has been looking into networks of craftsmanship and into the details of the techniques used to produce bronze sheet objects, in order to establish a clearer picture of how the technology was transferred and transformed through different regions and cultural spheres in Europe. Her study of bronze shields represents a major step in this investigation (Uckelmann 2012). The Minoan and Mycenaean metalwork is the starting point from which to explore the connections to metalwork in Central and Western Europe at the end of the Middle Bronze Age and the beginning of the Late Bronze Age. The focus is on objects which were produced mainly from sheet bronze: vessels, from cups to cauldrons and buckets; defensive armour: shields, cuirasses, shin-guards and helmets; and large sheet-bronze belt-plates. The study does not go into depth on the typology of these objects, but rather looks into the technology adopted. Different areas of research were chosen for this project to explore networks and exchange systems of objects, ideas and technologies to enlighten different facets of the Bronze Age life.

Recent publications

Harding, A. and Kavruk, V. 2013. Explorations in Salt Archaeology in the Carpathian Zone. Budapest: Archaeolingua (including contribution by M. Uckelmann, pp. 148-153).

Uckelmann, M. 2012. Die Schilde der Bronzezeit in Nord-, West- und Zentraleuropa. Prähistorische Bronzefunde III, 4. Stuttgart, Steiner.

Harding, A. 2013. Salt in European Prehistory. Leiden: Sidestone.x

Salt of the earth