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MC8.2 Innovation Management

Innovation Management – Bronze Age Entanglements between Asia and Europe

Coordination: Philipp W. Stockhammer


Innovative bronze casting was first introduced to Central Europe in the late 3rd and early 2nd millennium BCE and also to China only shortly afterwards. The Near East started alloying copper and tin already in the early 3rd millennium and developed a sophisticated casting technology. All three regions during the Early Bronze Age were integrated into far-reaching exchange networks. The early tin exploitation in Central Asia and in Western Europe provided vital links between the Near East and China on the one hand and the Near East and Central Europe on the other. Together with the introduction of bronze casting, highly interesting societal transformations took place in all three regions: firstly, the formation or strengthening of power imbalances within late 3rd and early 2nd millennium societies; secondly, the development of rituals and strategies devoted to managing this innovation. Thirdly, elite burials and hoards throughout Central Europe and China are repeatedly furnished with an enormous number of weapons and/or weapons for display. The appearance of these phenomena should be seen as the result of entangled knowledge between the different regions of Eurasia. The appropriation of foreign technologies seems to have been the driving forces for the development of new social practices and ideas at the beginning of the Bronze Age.

Ulrike Wischnewski, PhD Project: „Transfer of Innovation in the Near East in the Early Bronze Age” (working title)

Ulrike Wischnewski studied the emergence of tin bronze casting in Early Bronze Age (c. 2900-2000 BC) southern Mesopotamia, mainly concentrating on the first half of the 3rd millennium BC. Whereas previous works had focused either on the material or philological evidence, this project integrated material culture as well as textual evidence and managed to reveal a more complex understanding of the impact of the new technology on southern Mesopotamian societies. Written sources inform us about metal sources and the very sophisticated technology of metal production, which were developed by highly specialized craftsmen as well as about ritual and social practices during which bronze objects were used (e.g. burial rites). Wischnewski studied objects from different contexts like burials, hoards from sacral and palatial buildings and also the settlements Ur, Kish and Uruk in order to understand the development of tin-bronze casting. Her particular focus was placed on the relationship between tin-bronze, copper and arsenic-bronze technologies. As metal technology was already established in Early Bronze Age Mesopotamia, tin-bronze casting could be integrated in the existing chaîne opératoire. The experiences made by alloying copper and arsenic could be translated and transformed for developing the new alloy. Even if the reason for appropriating an innovation is not traceable, there are clearly many factors involved and the interwovenness of technology, material culture and society is one of them. In order to understand the reason for the appropriation of innovation, Wischnewski applied Pfaffenberger’s (1992) approach of the entanglement of technique, material culture and the socio-technological system as well as Hodder’s (2011; 2014) “human-thing entanglement”. As neither tin nor copper are natural resources in southern Mesopotamia, Wischnewski also studied the relationship between the transfer of raw materials and of knowledge, as the latter could either have been translated together with traded materials or via “cross-craft interaction” (Brysbaert 2011), for example the exchange of pyro-technological knowledge between metallurgist and potters. Finally, Wischnewski shed light on the societal change as a possible result of the appropriation of the innovation of tin-bronze casting.

Philipp W. Stockhammer: Managing Early Bronze Casting in Central Europe

Philipp Stockhammer’s research focused on the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age in Central Europe as well as on methodology. Integrating radiocarbon dating and a transcultural approach to the developments between 2500 and 1500 BCE, he was able to re-write the chronology of this period (Stockhammer et al. 2015a; Stockhammer et al. 2015b): the transition from the Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age in Central Europe had often been considered as a supra-regional uniform process, which led to the growing mastery of the new bronze technology. Since the 1920s, archaeologists have divided the Early Bronze Age into two chronological phases (Bronze A1 and A2), which were also seen as stages of technical progress. On the basis of 140 newly radiocarbon dated human remains from Final Neolithic, Early and Middle Bronze Age cemeteries, he proposed a significantly different dating range. He was able to date the beginning of the Early Bronze Age to around 2150 BC and its end to around 1700 BC. Moreover, there is no transition between Bronze A1 and Bronze A2 as it had been assumed since the early 20th century AD, but a complete overlap between the type objects of the two phases from 1900–1700 BC. Therefore, Stockhammer could demonstrate that the traditional phases Bz A1 and Bz A2 do not represent a chronological sequence, but regionally different social phenomena connected to the willingness of local actors to appropriate the new bronze technology.

Based on these new insights, Stockhammer also studied the process of appropriation of the new technology and the associated practices of innovation management (Stockhammer 2015; Stockhammer In Print). He analysed how early bronzes and their production were perceived and investigated in what way practices of coping with technology are recognisable and how the ability to produce quasi identical objects serially might have affected the lifeworlds of users and producers. For the area of the Únětice Culture where Bronze technology fell on fertile ground he identified religiously motivated mimetic practices of coping with technology. The novel serial production of quasi identical objects in large numbers and the simultaneously occurring practice of depositing large numbers of identical objects point to a specific new perspective of Bronze Age actors on their material culture. While the want to possess identical objects is already evident prior to the Early Bronze Age, the new technology allowed for ample realisation of this need. As a consequence of these insights, Stockhammer further studied the concepts of copy and seriality from an interdisciplinary perspective (Forberg/Stockhammer In Print; Stockhammer/Forberg In Print).


Sabine Linder: Bronze Age Management in China: “Acting” in a Complex Cultural Landscape

Sabine Linder’s research focused on the introduction and appropriation of the bronze technology in China, whereby she differentiated several regions of interest (Northwestern China, North Central China, Southwestern China and Sichuan) and time periods (late 3rd, early 2nd, mid 2nd millennium BCE). She demonstrated the complexity of the translation and appropriation of knowledge in the different regions, which must not be understood as linear or uniform processes. After the relevant knowledge of bronze casting technology, ores, alloys and mines was transmitted from Central Asia to Northwestern China, local groups started producing small tools or bronze ornaments around 2000 BCE. Soon afterwards, alloyed metal artefacts are present in the archaeological context further to the south. Immediately, the consumption of cast bronze objects played a major role in the social practices during the second millennium BCE. Linder especially elaborated on the translation of ceramic shapes into bronze shapes as a technique of upholding established practices and accepting change at the same time. Cross-craft interaction (Brysbaert 2011) between potters and emerging metallurgists seem to have been a crucial factor in the process of appropriation of the new technology as well as the ability of the metallurgists in North Central China to get access to sources of fine clay material necessary to construct the casting moulds. Accepting the diversity and multilinearity of bronzization (Vandkilde 2016) thus enables a much better understanding of China in the late 3rd and early 2nd millennium BCE.



BRYSBAERT, A. 2011: Technologies of Reusing and Recycling in the Aegean and Beyond, in: A. Brysbaert, Tracing Prehistoric Social Networks through Technology, New York: Routledge, pp. 183-203.

FORBERG, C./ STOCKHAMMER, P. W. (eds.) In Print: The Transformative Power of the Copy: A Transcultural and Interdisciplinary Approach. Heidelberg: Heidelberg Publishing.

HODDER, I. 2011: Human-thing entanglement: towards an integrated archaeological perspective. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 17, pp. 154-177.

HODDER, I. 2014: The Entanglement of Humans and Things: A Long Term View, New Literary History 45, pp. 19-36.

PFAFFENBERGER, B. 1992: Social Anthropology of Technology, Annual Review of Anthropology 21, pp. 491-516.

STOCKHAMMER, P.W. 2015: Die Wirkungsmacht des Identischen: Zur Wahrnehmung von Metallobjekten am Beginn der Bronzezeit. Germania 93, 2015.

STOCKHAMMER, P.W. et al. 2015a: Rewriting the Central European Early Bronze Age Chronology: Evidence from Large-Scale Radiocarbon Dating. PLoS ONE 10, 10: e0139705.

STOCKHAMMER, P.W. et al. 2015b: Kontinuität und Wandel vom Endneolithikum zur frühen Bronzezeit in der Region Augsburg. In: H. Meller/H. W. Arz/R. Jung/R. Risch (Hrsg.), 2200 BC – Ein Klimasturz als Ursache für den Zerfall der Alten Welt? 7. Mitteldeutscher Archäologentag, 23.–26. Oktober 2014, Halle (Saale). Halle/Saale: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege, pp. 617-641.

STOCKHAMMER, P.W. In Print: The Dawn of the Copy in the Bronze Age. In: C. Forberg/P. W. Stockhammer (eds.) The Transformative Power of the Copy: A Transcultural and Interdisciplinary Approach. Heidelberg: Heidelberg Publishing.

STOCKHAMMER, P.W./FORBERG, C. In Print: The Transformative Power of the Copy. An Interdisciplinary and Transcultural Approach: Introduction. In: C. Forberg/P. W. Stockhammer (eds.) The Transformative Power of the Copy: A Transcultural and Interdisciplinary Approach. Heidelberg: Heidelberg Publishing.

VANDKILDE, H. 2016: Bronzization: The Bronze Age as Pre-Modern Globalization. Prähistorische Zeitschrift 91, 1, pp. 103-123.