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 Kaufman, Roald Docter, David A. Scott, Fethi Chelbi, Boutheina Maraoui Telmini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4075-4101
Number of pages27
JournalArchaeological and Anthropological Sciences
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2019



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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology

Cite this