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From Iberia to the Southern Levant: The Movement of Silver Across the Mediterranean in the Early Iron Age

Wood, JR; Montero-Ruiz, I; Martinón-Torres, M; (2019) From Iberia to the Southern Levant: The Movement of Silver Across the Mediterranean in the Early Iron Age. Journal of World Prehistory , 32 (1) pp. 1-31. 10.1007/s10963-018-09128-3. Green open access

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The origins of the silver trade across the Mediterranean, and the role of the Phoenicians in this phenomenon, remain contentious. This is partly because of difficulties encountered when trying to assign archaeological silver to its geological sources. Here we present a reanalysis of Iron Age silver hoards in the southern Levant, which demonstrates not only that recycling of silver was widespread in the Early and Late Iron Age, but that the components of this mixed silver originated from the Aegean, Anatolia and the western Mediterranean. An assessment of lead isotope analyses combined with compositional data allows the identification of mixing lines based on gold levels in the silver and the Pb crustal age (or, more loosely, geological age) of the ore from which the silver originated. It is shown that, from as early as the 11th century BC, these mixed silver signatures derive from the Taurus mountains in Anatolia, from Iberia and an unknown source—with Sardinia as an additional possibility—and Laurion in Greece in the Late Iron Age. In contrast to copper, which was deliberately alloyed with silver, gold appears to have been mixed unintentionally, through the melting down of silver objects with gold parts. It is suggested that vertical mixing lines (with constant Pb crustal age but variable Au), may indicate the melting down and mixing of silver in times of unrest, both here and in other contexts. Gold and lead concentrations in the silver indicate that native silver from Iberia was most likely used in the Early Iron Age, suggesting that the first people to convey silver to the southern Levant were not miners but traders who had acquired silver directly from the indigenous Bronze Age inhabitants of Iberia. However, evidence of the exploitation of jarosite also supports that silver ore mining and cupellation was ongoing in Iberia at a similar time, and continued in the Late Iron Age—potentially a result of technological transfer from the East. In essence, the western Mediterranean origin of the silver in these Early Iron Age southern Levantine hoards supports an emerging picture of Mediterranean interactions and trade relations in the increasingly bright Dark Ages (c. 1200–800 BC).

Type: Article
Title: From Iberia to the Southern Levant: The Movement of Silver Across the Mediterranean in the Early Iron Age
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1007/s10963-018-09128-3
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10963-018-09128-3
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author(s) 2019. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
Keywords: Silver hoards, Mixing lines, Lead isotope analysis, Phoenicians, Reanalysis, Southern Levant
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Institute of Archaeology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > VP International
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10066696
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