Differential access to metal wealth from colony to capital to collapse at Phoenician and Punic Carthage: non-ferrous alloys and mineral resources from the Bir Massouda site

  • Brett KaufmanEmail author
  • Roald Docter
  • David A. Scott
  • Fethi Chelbi
  • Boutheina Maraoui Telmini
Original Paper


This article presents the first stratified archaeometric data of the earliest metallurgical assemblage of Maghrebi North Africa from the perspective of the non-ferrous alloys and minerals. From its foundations as a colony to its formation as an imperial power and subsequent decline and collapse, the Carthaginian state maintained a tradition of metallurgical production. Previous research has highlighted workshops of iron and steel manufacture at Bir Massouda and how this facilitated empire formation. The non-ferrous metals and alloys from Bir Massouda also provide information on the shifting fortunes of the Phoenician-Punic commercial endeavor in its geopolitical Mediterranean context. Following its foundation, Carthaginian non-ferrous alloys included the pure copper, tin bronze, and recycled arsenic-tin bronze alloys typical to Iron Age Mediterranean archeological deposits. At its imperial peak, Carthage maintained a relatively high diversity of alloy and mineral types, including pure copper, tin bronze, arsenical copper, leaded tin bronze, leaded arsenical copper, and lead. Two pieces of non-ferrous slag are evidence for bronze recycling. A special cobalt-iron-copper mineral was being processed likely as a colorant for glass or other decorative pigment, and glassy copper-based debris was found adhered to a ceramic or kiln component. During its early clashes with Rome and eventual decline and collapse, the Late Punic metal procurement system was stilted, likely due to restricted access to territorial mines previously held by Carthage in the Iberian Peninsula and Sardinia, with a reversion back to an assemblage of pure copper, arsenical copper, arsenic-tin bronze, and lead.


Non-ferrous metallurgy Archaeometallurgy Cobalt Glass colorants Political economy Wealth finance 



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE-0707424.The excavations in Carthage in 2000 and 2001 have been supported by a generous grant of the UTOPA Foundation (the Netherlands); the joint excavations of the Institut National de Patrimoine (INP) and Ghent University between 2002 and 2005 have been supported by several grants of the Flemish Fund for Scientific Research (FWO). Thanks go to the respective directors and staff of the INP and the Museum and Site of Carthage for their trust and support over the years. Thanks are due to Christian Fischer, Ioanna Kakoulli, and Sergey Prikhodko for access to analytical instruments, including those of the Molecular and Nano Archaeology Laboratory (MNA) of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA. Arlen Heginbotham (Getty Museum) kindly provided the bronze standards. Thanks are due to Eve MacDonald for pointing us toward the Livy silver debasement quote.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of the ClassicsUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA
  2. 2.Department of ArchaeologyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  3. 3.Cotsen Institute of ArchaeologyUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  4. 4.Department of Art HistoryUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  5. 5.Institut National du PatrimoineTunisTunisia
  6. 6.Faculté des Sciences Humaines et Sociales de TunisUniversity of TunisTunisTunisia

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