Metal trading and technology transfer by the Phoenicians in the westernmost part of the ancient world

The early 1st millennium BC saw the beginning of the Phoenician expansion throughout the Mediterranean area, with a special focus on the metal-rich regions such as Cyprus, Sardinia and the Iberian Peninsula. Within the context of this expansion, the Phoenicians began to set up a system of redistribution and exchange of commodities, which lasted for more than three centuries. This provided favourable conditions for economic development and technological innovations, not just within the settlements they founded themselves, but in the hinterland and the surrounding regions.

In this respect, the southwest of Iberia was one of the most important mining centres for copper extraction during the latest Bronze Age, and also for Iron Age silver mining. This process led to changes in the structures of local production, and was mainly motivated by the Phoenician demand for metal. This coincided with a change in the standard currency in the East: silver was becoming more important as an exchange currency in business transactions, gradually supplanting copper. Subsequently, radical economic developments and changes occurred in the organization of the settlement and production infrastructure. We find clear evidence of this in various settlements: mining centres, settlements that were shaped by mining and metallurgy, or metallurgy only, and metal export centres. These upheavals are also indirectly revealed by changes in other economic regions with regard to the production of lead, a metal which – except in a few cases – was needed for silver extraction and production by cupellation.

In order to be able to reconstruct the historical processes within the sphere of influence of western Phoenician colonization in the southwest of Iberia, one has to recognize the role of silver metallurgy here in the settlement patterns, and lead mining and its distribution to other areas in the associated regions. The basis for this will be the previous documentation of archaeological find sites on a geographic scale; these will be analysed in relation to their context within the natural landscape and their proximity to known resources such as ore deposits. Geographical information systems (GIS) will be used to model the work stages and processes from the metal deposit to the finished product, taking into account the development of the landscape, and also incorporating shoreline studies. They will also be used to evaluate the relationships between the locations of the Phoenician settlements, the geographical surroundings, and the accessibility of resources.


Prof. Dr. Bärbel Morstadt / Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Prof. Dr. Dirce Marzoli / Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Madrid

Prof. Dr. Thomas Stöllner

Responsible body

Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum

Ruhr-Universität Bochum


Ruhr-Universität Bochum


2011 - 2014


  • Martín Hernández, C., 2013. Phoencian trade of raw materials and changes in metal production patterns in SW Iberia during the orientalizing period. Metalla 20.2, pp. 17-24.