Jewelry metal found in an Iron Age burial in Finland comes from southern Europe

A recently published study indicates that the jewelry material found along with the human remains in the Levänluhta burial originates from southern Europe, contrary to what researchers had previously thought.

The Levänluhta site, dating from the Iron Age in the area (300-800 AD, later than the Mediterranean), is one of the most famous archaeological sites in Finland.

About a hundred individuals, mainly women and children, were buried in a lake located in Isokyrö, in southwestern Finland, during the Iron Age. Some of the deceased wore arm rings and necklaces made of copper, bronze or brass alloy.

Levänluhta site location / map by E.Holmqvist

According to researcher Elisabeth Holmqvist-Sipilä The origin of the metals used in these pieces of jewelry was determined on the basis of their geochemical composition and the lead isotopes of the objects. The jewels of the deceased are typical jewels of the Finnish Iron Age, so it is likely that they were melted down in local workshops. However, it is unlikely that the metals used to make these objects originated in the region, as copper ores had not yet been discovered during the Iron Age..

Until now, archaeologists have assumed that the copper used in the Finnish Iron Age came mainly from copper deposits discovered in southern Scandinavia. However, this interpretation has been challenged in recent years, as the copper found in metal archaeological finds in Sweden has also been determined to be imported.

In a study conducted in collaboration with archaeologists from the University of Helsinki and the Geological Survey of Finland, the origin of the bronze and brass jewelery found at Levänluhta was investigated by comparing their geochemical composition and isotope ratios of lead with copper ores. known in Finland, Sweden and elsewhere in Europe. The study was published in the journal Journal of Archaeological Science.

The Levänluhta site / photo Kaj Höglund on Wikimedia Commons

The results show that the copper used in the objects was not from Finland or nearby regions, but instead came to Finland through extensive exchange networks, most likely from southern Europe, according to Holmqvist-Sipilä.

Based on the isotopic ratios of lead, the copper in the objects originates from copper ores found in Greece and Bulgaria. These regions produced a large quantity of copper in the Bronze and Iron Ages, which spread throughout Europe distributed in the form of gifts, spoils of war and merchandise.

Metal objects from the Levänluhta site / photo Finnish Heritage Agency

Metals were also recycled by melting down old objects to become raw material for new molds. Metals that ended up in Finland during the Bronze Age may have been recycled in the Levänluhta region.

The results of this project, funded by the Emil Aaltonen Foundation, show that the products of the copper exchange network from continental Europe also reached Finland via the Baltic Sea, allowing the region to be connected to the extensive copper exchange system. copper known to have spread throughout Europe.

The results also illustrate the temporal and technological nature of prehistoric metal artifacts: the raw materials arrived here through various hands, probably after a long period of time and over very great distances. In the artisan workshops of the area, these metals of international origin were transformed into pieces of jewelery in the fashion of the Iron Age, which perhaps gave an account of the local identity and the place of residence of its wearer.


Lead isotope and geochemical analyzes of copper-based metal artifacts from the Iron Age water burial in Levänluhta, Western Finland, Elisabeth Holmqvist, Anna Wessman, Irmeli Mänttäri, Yann Lahaye. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports vol.26, August 2019, 101854, / University of Helsinki.

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