On holiday in Lebanon

In a bid to extend the focus of this blog beyond charred grains and farming, I have decided to use my various trips and holidays as inspiration for finding other research topics in archaeological chemistry.

My recent holiday in Lebanon was a real eye-opener. On my first foray to the Middle East, the friendliness of everyone we met and the beauty of the country overwhelmed me. As a central player in the trading empires that dominated the Mediterranean in the past, Lebanon has a fascinating ancient, as well as more recent, history.

The article I have chosen examines the source of copper used to make the Bronze Age weapons found at Byblos, one of the towns that I visited on the coast of Lebanon. The findings of this research have wider implications in the study of trade routes and political control across the Mediterranean and ancient Near East.

Looking out to sea at Byblos
Looking out to sea at Byblos

One of the ways to identify the source of copper for these weapons is determining the isotope ratios of lead, which is found as an impurity in the copper. While carbon and nitrogen only have two stable isotopes for us to worry about, lead has four: 204Pb, 206Pb, 207Pb and 208Pb. By comparing the various lead isotope ratios of the weapons from Byblos with those of possible Bronze Age copper sources in the eastern Mediterranean, Near East and eastern Europe, it is possible to match the copper in the weapons with its source. Other clues come from the composition of other metal impurities, but if the metal has been recycled and therefore smelted many times, these can alter compared to the source – archaeological science is never easy! From this initial work, the best matches were with sources in NW Iran and possibly Oman, suggesting that Lebanon was part of an exchange network that extended eastwards through Mesopotamia.

Z. El Morr et al. (2013) Copper quality and provenance in Middle Bronze Age I Byblos and Tell Arqa (Lebanon). Journal of Archaeological Science, 40, 4291-4305.


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