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Accueil > Recherche > Evolution des productions matérielles > Biomatériaux

Commerce des coraux à l’Age de fer

par Ina REICHE - publié le

Early trade relations and cultural contacts : the example of Iron Age coral trade in Europe – CORAL TRADE

Cooperation with Prof. Dr. Christopher Pare and Sebastian Fürst, Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte, Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz

The project focusses on the reconstruction of intra-European trade and communication routes between Central Europe and the western Mediterranean from the 7th to the 4th century BC. In Central Europe, this era is characterised by profound changes, such as increasing social stratification and the centralization of power with the first proto-urban centres. The increasing contacts of the Iron Age groups with the Mediterranean cultures during this period is seen as a key catalyst of these developments and is reflected archaeologically in the form of imported luxury goods. Among these objects precious red coral (Corallium rubrum) takes an exceptional position : 1.) corals were imported over a longer period than other goods, 2.) their distribution is much denser, and 3.) the group of consumers includes not only the upper class, but extends also to a kind of "middle class". However, a comprehensive study on the numerous Mediterranean coral imports has so far remained a research desideratum. A crucial reason for this lies in the difficulty of identifying ancient corals as such, because their colour fades and their surface structure changes due to ageing processes, which is why they are often confused with other light-coloured materials such as bone. Previously in archaeology, the lack of fundamental knowledge about the morphology of corals led to a considerable amount of unreliable identifications and alleged misinterpretations, which hindered the use of this important artefact category for archaeological research. On the basis of our preliminary work, criteria have been developed that allow a visual identification of corals in approximately 85% of cases. By using the already proven Raman spectroscopy the remaining 15% of critical cases can be identified in most instances as well. By using other (mobile) complementary analysis techniques, the reliability and efficiency of material identification will be increased during the planned research. However, the research objective is to go beyond the mere identification of materials and to obtain much more information on the corals. For the first time, an exhaustive catalogue and complete mapping (on the basis of verified data !) of the Mediterranean coral discoveries of the Central European Iron Age is planned, to gain a better understanding of trade patterns, communication routes and Iron Age social structures. By combining innovative scientific analysis with archaeological data evaluation, the project will provide the opportunity for extraordinary insights into the temporal and spatial course of trade and communication at the Iron Age in Europe so that many important aspects of this era will appear in a new light.