History

Tin in Europe

Tin in Europe

Europe has very few sources of tin. It was therefore of extreme importance throughout ancient times to import it long distances from known tin mining districts of antiquity, namely Erzgebirge along the modern border between Germany and Czech Republic, the Iberian Peninsula, Brittany in modern France, and Devon and Cornwall in southwestern Britain. There are several smaller sources of tin in the Balkans and another minor source of tin is known to exist at Monte Valerio in Tuscany, Italy. The Tuscan source was exploited by Etruscan miners around 800 BCE, but it was not a significant source of tin for the rest of the Mediterranean. The Etruscans themselves found the need to import tin from the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula at that time and later from Cornwall.

It has been claimed that tin was first mined in Europe around 2500 BCE in Erzgebirge, and knowledge of tin bronze and tin extraction techniques spread from there to Brittany and Cornwall around 2000 BCE and from northwestern Europe to northwestern Spain and Portugal around the same time. However, the only Bronze Age object from Central Europe whose tin has been scientifically provenanced is the Nebra sky disk, and its tin (and gold, though not its copper), is shown by tin isotopes to have come from Cornwall. In addition, a rare find of a pure tin ingot in Scandinavia was provenanced to Cornwall. Available evidence, though very limited, thus points to Cornwall as the sole early source of tin in Central and Northern Europe.