17 March 2015

Weights will shed new light on prehistoric trade and economy


How did the introduction of balance weights in Bronze Age Europe and Asia shape the way prehistoric cultures conducted trade? And how did this new system for assessment of value transform our early societies? These fundamental questions, which have not been answered before, will inform a new groundbreaking ERC-funded research project based at the University of Copenhagen.

“My own preliminary research has shown that weights and accurate value assessments were much more ubiquitous across Bronze Age Europe and Asia than it has previously been assumed – and that the use of weights spread swiftly across vast geographical areas. This suggests that weighing and value-assessment was extremely important for Bronze Age trade and economy,” explains Dr. Lorenz Rahmstorf who will lead the new research project based at the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Humanities.

Foto: Lorenz Rahmstorf

Bronzealdergenstande, der kan have været brugt som vægte. Fundet ved Tiryns i Grækenland

The project, which is entitled Weight metrology and its economic and social impact on Bronze Age Europe, West and South Asia, has been awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant of 1.9 million euros.

Dr. Rahmstorf expects that the project will uncover new sources for the reconstruction of trade and exchange networks through the identification of a mostly overlooked or ignored class of artifacts – early balance weights.

“Finds of potential weights are generally not identified or are either ignored or insufficiently published. Often the material seems to be regarded as too difficult to extract data from, so their potential use for a direct evaluation of Bronze Age economics is most often missed.” 

Novel methodology: 3D reconstructions and statistical tests

The research team will apply novel methods of identifying, defining and reconstructing potential weights and measures as well as potential weight-related artefacts. In addition, current methods in dating will be used to tackle key questions of the early dissemination of weights and its social and historical dimensions.

“One of the new methods we will use is 3D reconstruction as weight finds often are fragmentary. But it is often possible to reconstruct symmetrical objects, for instance with a hand-held portable 3D laser scanning device, and this is a technology that has never been applied on ancient weights before,” says Dr. Rahmstorf and adds:

“We also intend to apply statistical methods to calculate the potential mass-unit from a sample of many different weights collected across Europe and Asia; this will enable us to ascertain whether weights used in different regions used similar units. If they did, it can serve as documentation that there were indeed intensive trade relations between for instance European and Asian cultures. Which is something archaeologists have suspected a long time but never been able to document.”

The project Weight metrology and its economic and social impact on Bronze Age Europe, West and South Asia is based at University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Humanities and the project will run for five years.


Archaeologist Lorenz Rahmstorf
University of Copenhagen
E-mail: rahmstor@uni-mainz.de
Phone: + 45 52 60 97 43

Press officer Carsten Munk Hansen
Faculty of Humanities
E-mail: carstenhansen@hum.ku.dk
Phone: + 45 28 75 80 23