Department of Archaeology

Libiola (Liguria - NW Italy) – A later fourth millennium cal BC copper mine

Michael McCullagh with Mark Pearce (Nottingham)

Detailed recording and survey carried out in 1997-2001 in collaboration with Michael McCullagh, in the context of a University of Nottingham School of Geography survey field school he directed in eastern Liguria.

Ancient mining at Libiola, in the Gromolo valley (Sestri Levante - GE), eastern Liguria, NW Italy, was reported in the nineteenth century. Arturo Issel, professor of Geology at the University of Genoa, recorded the finding of prehistoric artefacts, including wooden wedges, a shovel, an oak pick-handle and stone hammers in a narrow, artificial, gallery.

The oak pick-handle was identified at Genoa-Pegli Museum by Roberto Maggi and radiocarbon dated to the second half of the fourth millennium cal BC: 3490-2905 cal BC, GIF-7213, 4490±90 BP; 3510-3120 cal BC, Bln-3367, 4610±50 BP; the weighted mean gives a 2σ calibrated age between 3490 and 3120 cal BC.

Copper was already mined at Libiola in the early seventeenth century, but there was intensive activity from 1864 until 1965, and large-scale open cast operations after the Second World War. This makes it difficult to locate the position of the reported prehistoric galleries, or indeed to relate nineteenth-century documentation to the present-day topography.

We generated a detailed terrain model and compared this with the available plans and sections of the mine (from the archives of the Regione Toscana and of the present owners of the site, Agricola Libiola s.r.l.) and the cadastral map at 1:2,000 (Sestri Levante, sheet 17). This allowed us to locate the position of both 'Brown's' quarry and the 'Brown' Gallery entrance, the area of the mine where the prehistoric implements were found in the nineteenth century. Unfortunately the prehistoric workings themselves could not be located.



Roberto Maggi (Direzione Regionale per i Beni culturali e paesaggistici della Liguria), Jerry Ratcliffe (Temple University, Philadelphia), Nadia Campana (Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Liguria), and the participants of the field schools.


Key publications

M. Pearce, 2007. Bright Blades and Red Metal: essays on north Italian prehistoric metalwork. London: Accordia Research Institute (Specialist Studies on Italy 14), pp.62-66.

M.J. McCullagh & M. Pearce, 2004. Surveying the prehistoric copper mine at Libiola (Sestri Levante - GE), Italy, inR. Balzaretti, M. Pearce & C. Watkins (eds), Ligurian Landscapes: studies in Archaeology, Geography and History: 83-95. London: Accordia Research Centre (Specialist Studies on Italy 10).



Department of Archaeology

University of Nottingham
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