Heavy Metal

From February, 2 2016 to January, 14 2018

How copper changed the world
Special exhibition in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology

The special exhibition in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology traces the history of copper. What were the consequences of its discovery for Stone Age man? And why is the shiny red metal found in smartphones, coins and electrical cables today?

The most famous individual from the Copper Age is Ötzi, the glacier mummy from the Schnalstal Valley. He has been on display in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology since 1998. He carried a valuable copper axe, which marks him out as a person of high standing.

The exhibition leads from the beginning of copper processing in the Middle East to our ancestor's life in the Alps during Otzi's time, approx. 5,000 years ago.

Heavy Metal, on a surface of ca. 300 m², displays archaeological findings from the Alps as well as important original findings from neighbouring regions.

The first metal was discovered over 10,000 years ago. It was a revolutionary step for mankind. Someone must have found a pure copper nugget by accident and realized that this unknown material could be shaped by heating and beating.

At some point our ancestors succeeded in smelting copper ore at over 1000ºC (over 1832 ºF) and fashioning it into desired forms. The triumphal march of copper began.

The performance of Copper tools was in no way inferior to stone tools. In fact, the former had an edge over the latter: broken tools weren't thrown away. They were simply smelted and recast. This elevated copper objects to coveted trading commodities. The first copper tools appeared in Central Europe via barters and trades around 6,500 years ago. However, copper processing techniques only reached Central Europe some centuries later.

Ötzi is one of the only a few corpses ever found with completely intact clothing from the Copper Age. But he wasn't wearing everyday clothes. His cloak was made for the high mountains. The images on the male and female menhirs are an indication of how people dressed in the valleys at the time.

During the Copper Age, the custom of erecting statue menhirs spread throughout Europe. These sunken vertical stones were erected in honour of important ancestors. Both men and women were honoured in this way. The images engraved in the stone were of actual objects that were status symbols in the Copper Age.

Great importance was placed on a natural representation. The female menhirs are smaller than their male counterparts. The women are depicted with breasts and wear wide necklacws and capes.

The gods were brought sacrifices to appease them in times of illness, failed harvests or conflict. Food and material offerings were placed in a fire so that they could ascend in smoke to the sky. The people appeared to ask for a great deal, since valuable weapons such as daggers and axes as well as numerous cremated animal bones have been found at cult sites.

Technical innovations in the Copper Age such as metal-working also brought social change. Copper mining and smelting and the production of tradeable products required strict social organization.

One of the most important Copper Age innovations, apart from metal working, was the invention of the wheel.

Prestigious goods such as copper axe blades were widespread, and their use as grave goods in particularly well-provisioned graves reflects the development of ranks in society.