The earliest copper-based objects in Switzerland, south Germany,
and Austria, were studied in their cultural contexts. The
chronological and spatial distributions of the relevant Late
Neolithic cultures in this area, and all available material evidence
were investigated, and their relationships with one another, and
with neighbouring cultures, were examined.
A first copper-using horizon was found to be followed by a discon¬
tinuity (second horizon) in which the use of copper was less frequent.
This discontinuity was coeval with the considerable break in the
pattern of copper-using cultures in northern Europe just before
the beginning of the Corded Ware culture. The second horizon was
succeeded by a third copper-using horizon which again used copper
intensively. This latter horizon continued, particularly in
Switzerland, without a break into the Bronze Age.
About one hundred samples of metal objects from Swiss and Austrian
museums were analysed for the first time for eleven elements, mainly
by neutron activation analysis and atomic absorption spectroscopy.
Some samples of objects which had been previously analysed elsewhere,
and three international standards, were also analysed to establish
comparability of results. In addition, 330 published analyses
possibly pertaining to the Late Neolithic period were considered,
chosen primarily because the artifacts concerned were of types occuring
in secure Late Neolithic associations.
The impurity patterns of objects containing less than 2% tin (about
360) and those containing more than 2% tin (the bronzes) were grouped
separately by cluster analysis, using a computer program. Ten main
copper groups, and six bronze groups, emerged, all coherent and
sharply defined. They are discussed in terms of their composition,
their archaeological, chronological and geographical significance.
One of the three earliest coppers contained significant amounts of
arsenic, and probably came from outside the region. By the third
copper-using horizon there is strong evidence for mining and smelting
in several areas within the Salzach region. This mined copper was
mostly used in Switzerland, suggesting that Swiss groups or individuals procured their copper from Austria.
It is concluded that the introduction of copper into the northern
alpine region is due, not to a single culture, but to a complex net¬
work of multiple contacts and that this resulted not in one single
culture which was the earliest to use copper, but in an entire early
copper-using horizon. The start of the metal-using horizon was
very soon followed by local smithing and also mining activities. The
implications in terms of social structure, independent invention,
and possible trade are briefly discussed.