Chalcolithic and Bronze Age metalwork is relatively ubiquitous across the British Isles, with thousands of artefacts housed in museum archives. These artefacts demonstrate a tradition of obtaining, transforming and using metals since the introduction of copper into Britain at c. 2500 BC, thought to correlate with the arrival of the Beaker package. This arrival coincides with a time of considerable social and ideological transition in the UK, ending the more insular Neolithic which is associated with the creation of large communal monuments, such as Stonehenge and Avebury.
In recent decades there have been significant advances in the understanding of the prehistoric mining of metals across the British Isles, with Beaker and Bronze Age mines identified in locations such as Ross Island (Ireland), the Great Orme (UK) and Alderley Edge (UK). Likewise, detailed compositional analyses of artefacts have revealed evidence of use, transportation and recycling of metals during this period, with well-defined typological schemes for Chalcolithic/Bronze Age metal artefacts. However, although the chronology for the adoption and use of metals is relatively well understood, defining the social context of metalworking has proven to be a more difficult problem to address. All too often metalworking is described as a technological process divorced from the conditions of its production. Our knowledge of both the landscape context and the social context of metalworking is still limited and old questions remain unanswered. Was bronze cast by itinerant smiths or by specialists tied to particular communities?
The reasons for this disparity, is due to the lack of archaeological evidence. The archaeological evidence from metallurgy during these early prehistoric periods are likely to be slight, and possibly not identifiable as metalworking remains during excavation. However, the application of scientific analyses have considerable potential to address these questions, through looking at samples from excavated sites of these periods on the microscopic geochemical level.