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The ‘Copper Age’ – a history of the concept

Pearce, Mark

The ‘Copper Age’ – a history of the concept Thumbnail


Professor of Mediterranean Prehistory


The idea that there was a Copper Age between the Neolithic and Bronze Age was inspired by the discovery of copper use in prehistoric North America. Its currency in European prehistory owes much to the 1861 observations by William Wilde that copper artefacts preceded bronze tools in Ireland, though he himself did not postulate a Copper Age per se. Acceptance of the existence of a Copper Age was a long process, not least as it seemed to contradict the premises of the Three Age System and was conflated with arguments for the local development of copper metallurgy, but the 1876 and 1880 international prehistoric archaeology congresses were key moments in its recognition. By the mid-1880s its validity was widely accepted in Europe. In contemporary dating schemes, the definition of the Copper Age varies according to regional and national traditions. The paper touches on the debate concerning the use of technological stages as chronological periods and examines alternative conceptualisations of the early periods of metallurgy in Europe.


Pearce, M. (2019). The ‘Copper Age’ – a history of the concept. Journal of World Prehistory, 32(3), 229-250.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 11, 2019
Online Publication Date Aug 30, 2019
Publication Date Sep 1, 2019
Deposit Date Jan 7, 2019
Publicly Available Date Aug 12, 2019
Journal Journal of World Prehistory
Print ISSN 0892-7537
Electronic ISSN 1573-7802
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 32
Issue 3
Pages 229-250
Keywords Archaeology; General Arts and Humanities
Public URL
Publisher URL
Contract Date Aug 12, 2019


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