Minor elements, major patterns:

chemical fingerprints of early modern copper sources

Invited Speaker

Arie Pappott
Rijksmuseum /University of Amsterdam
The Netherlands

Large-scale quantitative chemical analyses of copper-based objects have revealed regional and chronological impurity patterns before, but these patterns have remained sketchy and were rarely connected to a historical background. By combining these patterns with accurate statistical data on copper production, trade routes and documented preferential uses of different types of copper, a highly detailed biography of this metal can be reconstructed, in particular for Northwestern Europe from about 1100 AD onwards.

Minute chemical changes in coins and ingots bear witness of the collapse of the Swedish Falun mine in 1687, or the 1546 withdrawal of the Fugger company from Neusohl in Slovakia. Smelters of high-quality brass had such a persistent preference for low-antimony copper, that these copper types were hardly available for other uses. This approach helps detecting forgeries or wrongly attributed objects, but a bird’s-eye view of this combined dataset shows many more economical and technological developments and greatly improves our understanding of the chemical nature of objects.