First comprehensive peat depositional records for tin, lead and copper associated with the antiquity of Europe's largest cassiterite deposits

Andrew A. Meharg*, Kevin J. Edwards, J. Edward Schofield, Andrea Raab, Joerg Feldmann, Annette Moran, Charlotte L. Bryant, Barry Thornton, Julian J. C. Dawson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Tin, as a constituent of bronze, was central to the technological development of early societies, but cassiterite (SnO2) deposits were scarce and located distantly from the centres of Mediterranean civilizations. As Britain had the largest workable ore deposits in the ancient Western world, this has led to much historical speculation and myth regarding the long-distance trading of tin from the Bronze Age onwards. Here we establish the first detailed chronology for tin, along with lead and copper deposition, into undisturbed ombrotrophic (rain-fed) peat bogs located at Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor in the centre of the British tin ore fields. Sustained elevated tin deposition is demonstrated clearly, with peaks occurring at 100-400 and 700-1000 calendar years AD - contemporaneous with the Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods respectively. While pre-Roman Iron Age tin exploitation undoubtedly took place, it was on a scale that did not result in convincingly enhanced deposition of the metal. The deposition of lead in the peat record provides evidence of a pre-Roman metal-based economy in southwest Britain. Emerging in the 4th century BC, this was centred on copper and lead ore processing that expanded exponentially and then collapsed upon Roman colonization during the 1st century AD. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)717-727
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012


  • Tin
  • Peat geochemistry
  • Dartmoor
  • Cornwall
  • Roman
  • Anglo-Saxon
  • PB
  • BOG

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