Interwoven traditions in Bell Beaker metallurgy: Approaching the social value of copper at Bauma del Serrat del Pont (Northeast Iberia)

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Montes-Landa, Julia  ORCID logo
Murillo-Barroso, Mercedes 
Montero-Ruiz, Ignacio  ORCID logo
Rovira-Llorens, Salvador  ORCID logo
Martinón-Torres, Marcos 

Debates on early metallurgy in Western Europe have frequently focused on the social value of copper (between utilitarian and symbolic) and its purported role in the emergence and consolidation of hierarchies. Recent research shows that generalisations are increasingly untenable and highlights the need for comparative regional studies. Given its location in an intermediate area, the early metallurgy of Northeast Iberia provides an interesting case in point to explore the interaction between the well-characterised traditions of southern Iberia and southern France during the 3rd and 2nd millennia BCE. Here the analytical study of seven Bell Beaker (decorated and undecorated) vessels reused as crucibles at Bauma del Serrrat del Pont (Tortellà, Girona) are presented. We employed pXRF, metallography, SEM-EDS and lead isotope analyses. The results show evidence for copper smelting employing a remarkable variety of ore sources, including Solana del Bepo, Turquesa and Les Ferreres mines, and an extra unknown area. The smelting vessels were manufactured using the same clay, which contained both mineral and organic inclusions. Our results are discussed with reference to all the evidence available for metals and metallurgy in the Northeast, and more broadly in comparison to southern Iberia and southern France, with special emphasis on issues of production organisation and social complexity. Taken together, our results support the notion that copper metallurgy played a predominantly utilitarian role in Bell Beaker societies and highlight idiosyncratic aspects of the metallurgical trajectory in the Northeast. Differences between territories challenge unilinear explanations of technological and social development after the introduction of metallurgy. Separate trajectories can only be explained in relation to area-specific socio-cultural and environmental factors.

Research Article, Physical sciences, Social sciences, People and places
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Public Library of Science
Cambridge Commonwealth, European and International Trust (Vice-Chancellor's Award)
Arts and Humanities Research Council (Cambridge-DTP program)
Agencia Estatal de Investigación (PID2019.108289GB.I00 / SRA – State Research Agency / 10.13039/501100011033)