Department of Archaeology
   
   
  

Excavation of the early prehistoric copper mine at Monte Loreto

Excavation of the early prehistoric (mid fourth millennium cal BC) copper mine at Monte Loreto (Liguria - NW Italy)

Co-directed by Roberto Maggi (of the Direzione Regionale per i Beni culturali e paesaggistici della Liguria) and Mark Pearce in collaboration with cavers from the Centro Studi Sotterranei in Genoa and colleagues from the University of Nottingham School of Geography. Excavation seasons: 1996 - 2001; surveying seasons: 1997 - 2000.

The Monte Loreto copper mine is situated near Masso (Castiglione Chiavarese - GE) in the hinterland of Sestri Levante in eastern Liguria, NW Italy.

 

Key findings

Radiocarbon dates demonstrate that the mines were exploited from the mid fourth to the early third millennium cal. BC, making Monte Loreto the earliest identified copper mine in western Europe.

Radiocarbon dates demonstrate that the mines were exploited from the mid fourth to the early third millennium cal. BC.

 

Our excavations at Monte Loreto have documented prehistoric mines and ore-dressing facilities at various locations on the slopes of the mountain.

 

Inside a prehistoric copper mine (photo: copyright Roberto Bixio, Centro Studi Sotterranei)
 


Figure 2:
 Inside a prehistoric copper mine (photo: copyright Roberto Bixio, Centro Studi Sotterranei)

There were various types of mine - some dug out the ore veins in fissures at the contact between the basalt and an outcrop of serpentinite breccia; trench mines and shafts were also present.

Some of the fissures were backfilled in antiquity, perhaps for stability as the basalt country rock fractures easily.

The presence of charcoal and smooth rock faces may document fire setting, whilst notches cut into the rock may be interpreted as hand and foot-holes cut out to ease access (as in nineteenth-century mining practice) or lodgings for prehistoric scaffolding.

 

 

Notches cut into the side of a mine - hand and foot-holes or lodgings for prehistoric scaffolding (photo: Mark Pearce)
 


Figure 3:
 Notches cut into the side of a mine - hand and foot-holes or lodgings for prehistoric scaffolding (photo: Mark Pearce)

More than 700 hammerstones were found. They were notched or single or double-grooved for hafting, and show use-damage. The hammerstones are mostly made of basalt, but also dolerite, sandstone, diorite and gabbro; some of them were sourced some kilometres from the site.

Ore treatment is documented by a series of dumps of graded and sorted mining débris, mostly consisting of country rock and gangue. Some of these dumps contain large fragments of country rock mixed with broken and use-worn hammer-stones. Other dumps, often interleaved with them, contain finer grade material, and are probably the result of ore beneficiation. This would have had to be carried out without the aid of water, as the nearest springs and watercourses are at some distance below the site.

There is as yet no clear evidence for smelting at the site.

Evidence for late Antique activity at the site is investigated by a project directed by Fabrizio Benente of the University of Genoa.

 

 

Project sponsors

The AHRB, the Soprintendenza Archeologica della Liguria, the University of Nottingham, the Molly Cotton Foundation, the Society of Antiquaries, the Comunità montana 'Val Petronio' and the communes of Sestri Levante, Castiglione Chiavarese and Casarza Ligure.

 

Key publications

R. Maggi and M. Pearce, 2005. Mid fourth-millennium copper mining in Liguria, north-west Italy: the earliest known copper mines in Western Europe, Antiquity 79 (303): 66-77.

L. Cortesogno, A. De Pascale, L. Gaggero, R. Maggi & M. Pearce, 2006. Strumenti litici per estrazione mineraria: il caso di Monte Loreto (IV millennio BC), in D. Cocchi Genick (ed.), Atti della XXXIX Riunione Scientifica: materie prime e scambi nella preistoria italiana. Nel cinquantenario della fondazione dell'Istituto Italiano di Preistoria e Protostoria. Firenze, 25-27 novembre 2004, Vol. II: 683-695. Florence: Istituto Italiano di Preistoria e Protostoria.

N. Campana, R. Maggi, M. Pearce & C. Ottomano, 2006. 'Quanto rame? Stima della produzione mineraria del distretto di Sestri Levante fra IV e III millennio BC', in D. Cocchi Genick (ed.), Atti della XXXIX Riunione Scientifica: materie prime e scambi nella preistoria italiana. Nel cinquantenario della fondazione dell'Istituto Italiano di Preistoria e Protostoria. Firenze, 25-27 novembre 2004, Vol III: 1339-1348. Florence: Istituto Italiano di Preistoria e Protostoria.

N. Campana, R. Maggi, M. Pearce, 2008. Issel dixit, in A. De Pascale, A. Del Lucchese & O. Raggio (eds), La nascita della Paletnologia in Liguria. Personaggi, scoperte e collezioni tra XIX e XX secolo. Atti del Convegno Internazionale. Finale Ligure Borgo (Savona), 22-23 settembre 2006. Complesso di Santa Caterina - Auditorium. Museo Archeologico del Finale: 305-311. Bordighera - Finale Ligure: Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri (Collezione di Monografie Preistoriche ed Archeologiche 15). (international conference paper)

A. De Pascale, 2004. 'Hammerstones from early copper mines': sintesi dei ritrovamenti nell'Europa e nel Mediterraneo orientale e prime considerazioni sui mazzuoli di Monte Loreto (IV millennio BC - Liguria). Rivista di Studi Liguri 69 (2003): 5-42.

R. Maggi & M. Pearce, 2003. Excavations at the fourth millennium cal BC copper mines at Monte Loreto (Liguria - NW Italy), in International Conference, Archaeometallurgy in Europe, 24-25-26 September 2003 - Milan, Italy. Proceedings, Vol. 1: 587-596. Milan: Associazione Italiana di Metallurgia.

A. De Pascale, 2001-02, Monte Loreto: un sito preistorico di estrazione mineraria. Problemi metodologici, primi risultati, prospettive. Tesi di laurea, University of Genoa.

F. Benente, 1999. GE: Monte Loreto, Archeologia Medievale 26: 219.

 

 

Department of Archaeology

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